Monday, February 18, 2013


I got to thinking about this word on Valentine’s Day. It means different things to different people, of course, but to those of us who are competitors it has a particular meaning.  Whether you’re a runner, a golfer, a cyclist, a pool player, even a competitive Scrabble player, having heart has a particular meaning. I want to talk about that but first, I have a request.

Tour de Cure

For people with Diabetes, having heart means keeping a focus on your diet, on your meds, and on your lifestyle not because it’s the right thing to do but because failing to do so will lead to your death. It’s that simple. Diabetes kills people. It kills some of them even if they do all those things properly. That’s why I’m going to ride again this year in the Tour de Cure of the National Capital Area, on June 2nd this year.

I’m planning to ride in the century ride, just like last year, and travel over 100 miles in one day on my bike to raise money and awareness for this horrible disease. Last year, a lot of you donated money and together we raised $1500 toward the total of $800,000 raised in this one event.  This year, the larger goal is $1,000,000 and I’m hoping to get to $1800, with your help.

No donation is too small. In fact, if everyone that reads this blog donated only $5 I’d be almost halfway to my goal. (I know I can’t believe that many people read this blog but have you seen Facebook lately?) Here’s a link to my donation page for the TdC.

Thanks! I'm riding for you!

Heart is a noun that should be a verb

Think about it.  This thing works so diligently in the human body that it should be a verb. The average person’s heart beats over 100,000 times a day, almost 40 million times a year, over 3 billion times in the average lifetime.  Damn.

To have heart, then, means that you’re always there. Hanging around until your best effort is needed and then you give it for as long as it’s needed or as long as you can give it.

Two wheeled heart

I was out on a ride some weeks ago, riding by myself and feeling pretty good although I was beginning to run out of gas.  I’d been out for a little over two hours and had ridden 33 miles, or so, with about 5 more miles left to make it home.

I was pedaling steadily up a false flat (the road appears to be flat but actually has a slight incline) trying to hold my pace when I saw them approaching in my rearview mirror. A group of three riders, in a tight pace line, was gaining on me and doing it quickly. I watched their image grow in my mirror as I continued to plod along. My cadence increased slightly, much like your foot comes off the gas pedal of your car when you see a cop on the road; you aren’t really thinking about doing it, it’s just a reflex.  As a result, I was close to 17 mph when they came alongside.

They were younger guys (at this point, most everyone is) and they were in really good shape; well defined calf muscles are a dead giveaway for serious cyclists.  And they weren’t even breathing hard, greeting me with full sentences and no gasping as they rolled past me.  I puffed out a response, pretending not to be working too hard. (Cyclists that are working in a pace line, I'm told, use about 40% less energy for the same speed. That's why you see them doing it!)

They were about twenty yards past me when my brain said to me, “Really? You’re just going to let those guys just drop you like a bad habit?” A little groan escaped my lips as I stood up and accelerated toward the last rider, intent on catching the wheel and riding along with them. 

It took me about 100 meters to catch the last rider and when I slid in behind him, I was doing just over 20 mph. I settled into a bigger gear, held my position and worked on recovering from the burst, trying desperately not to sound like I was going to pass out. The guy in front, looked back at me in surprise.

“You don’t mind if I wheel suck, do you?” I croaked.

He grinned and said, “You just have to keep up.”
From my point of view

Fair enough, that’s all I wanted. My legs were already starting to come back to me, thanks to the slipstream effect, and this was starting to feel pretty good even though we were now going up an actual hill.

In seemingly no time at all, we reached the crest and the front rider came up out of the drops and onto the hoods. Everyone else followed suit as we rolled down a slight decline.  The three in front chatted for a second, grabbed a quick drink as I did the same, and then began the next push.  I stuck to the back wheel of the last guy in line and kept my cadence at a comfortable level. My computer seemed surprised that we were going 25 mph on a flat; it’s not used to that kind of performance.
Hah! You wish, pal!
I spent the next four miles rather enjoying the feeling of flying along, just above the pavement. I was pedaling near my maximum effort but the reward was bigger than I’d ever felt before. As a result, I just kept pedaling, watching the line to ensure I didn’t do anything stupid, occasionally looking at the powerful efforts of the guy at the front and just marveling that he could do it, and that I could keep up.  I felt great!

With only a half mile to get home, I realized that I was going to need to peel off from the group and turn down the road where my house is located.  As we came up to it, I yelled, “Thanks for the pull, guys!”  All three of them looked over in unison, appearing totally surprised that I’d kept up.  I waved.

Fortunately, it’s downhill for the last quarter mile to my house.

Heart on the Table

A couple of years ago, at the Virginia State 9 Ball Championships, I saw an example of heart.  Of a completely different sort.

Jordan is a player of some repute in the Richmond area. He’s been playing at a high level for at least the last 15 years or so. He’s a big guy with a sledge hammer break, excellent shot making skills, and plays very tidy safeties.  He’s been known to play for some healthy cheese, too. (For all non-pool players, that means he likes to gamble.)

In this particular tournament, Jordan won his first three matches on the winners’ side before getting knocked to the one loss bracket.  From there, I watched him as he won four matches in a row to reach the semi-finals of the tournament. Plenty of players do that but how he managed those four wins was what made it so special.

In each of the race to 9 matches, Jordan’s opponent made it to the hill (8 games going to 9) first. In the first one, he was down 8-3 before winning 6 games in a row to win the match. He was down 8-5 in the second match and did the same thing. It got easier the third match as he was only behind 8-7 before winning the last 2 games. In the fourth, it got harder again as he was down 8-6 and still managed a win. At no time during these matches did Jordan appear to be any differently focused or driven; he simply kept pushing forward, giving each shot his full attention and nothing more or less.

No one that I spoke with could remember this sort of thing happening in the tournament before and we also haven’t seen it since.

In the semi-final match, Jordan was down 8-6 and won the next 2 games to make it hill-hill again. Some of the sweators were trying to get people to bet against him to do it again and they were having a hard time getting action, too. But Jordan had gone to the well once too often and lost when he broke dry and his opponent ran out for the match.  Just the same, it was an example of tremendous heart from a competitor refusing to give in until the last ball dropped. His performance that day is still talked about during the annual State Championships.

Final words

I have few heroes but one who comes close is Theodore Roosevelt. TR was many things including a snob, an intellectual, a rancher, a hunter and naturalist, a warrior, a father, an asthmatic, a raconteur, and a loving husband. He was also a man of letters, writing over 50,000 of them, along with several dozen books, during his lifetime. I don't believe he was a cyclist but I know he did play pool. 

Theodore Roosevelt
26th US President
This passage from one of his speeches is, in my opinion, one of the all-time great descriptions of heart.

The Man in the Arena

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

I’ll leave it there.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Road Warriors – Unite!

I get to travel on business quite a bit and have been doing it for about 25 years or so. When you’ve been doing it for that long, you tend to get numb to the stupid stuff that happens; patience is a virtue when you’re traveling. While patience isn’t one of my virtues, I’ve gotten to be pretty easygoing about it as long as a few, simple things are handled.

First, keep me informed and don’t BS me.  I’m not looking for all the answers, just let me know what you know. That way I can make my own decisions about what to do next (stay here or get another hotel – stay on this flight or look for another one) and feel, at least slightly in control.

Second, if you’re the hotel in which I’m staying, make sure the bed is comfortable and the water is hot.  Seriously, most of the time spent in a hotel room is either sleeping or getting ready to leave. If you get these parts correct, everything else is just gravy for me.

A few weeks ago, I was in the Dallas area and got an example of how not to do it. Several of my friends found my recollection of the events humorous so I thought I’d drop it in here.

That 70’s Show!

I was co-facilitating a class for managers, held at the American Airlines Training and Conference Center. I’m guessing this facility was initially built in the early 1970s, when the airlines were in their heyday, and American needed a place to train all its flight attendants, pilots, etc.  It’s now a revenue stream for the parent company by renting it to companies looking for a place for training/meetings for groups of all sizes.  We had about 20 people. Here's the entrance.  Maybe a tad dated, no?

Welcome to The Lodge

There have been additions to the campus over the years.  The newest additions are probably less than ten years old, are nicely furnished, and are really good for holding a training course. As a result, our class was very productive, focused, and engaged. A great deal of learning took place and we received rave reviews for the content.
The issue was the “hotel” side of our stay.
Nice shiny conference center on right
Cozy Rooms

I’m always nervous when I read the review of hotel and rooms are referred to as “cozy.” These weren’t described that way, at least not any place that I saw, but they could have been. It would have been generous. They’re cozy in the same way that your first dorm room was cozy.

These were actually old dorm rooms, left over from the early years. I’m guessing that, back then, there were two twin beds to match the two tiny closets on one side of the room. Fortunately, management has decided that you can’t put two business travelers in a room this small.  They’ve left the two closets but changed to a single, queen bed.
The room isn't much larger than this.
The walls had relatively new wall paper on them. The furniture (desk and nightstands) looked like standard motel issue. The carpet was clean and fairly new. And a flat screen TV hung on the wall, too.  I sat down on the bed and realized it was a top of the line model, outfitted with high end bedding.  Good! The sleeping part was covered.
The rest of the room w/TV
I began to unpack. When I took my toiletries into the bathroom, I was a bit surprised to see that the fixtures hadn’t been upgraded since, well, opening day.  (I’m not talking about the baseball season, here.)

The toilet was very institutional, with the plumbing pipes proudly coming out of the wall at chest height. The shower head looked like something from the Bates motel. And the basin sink fixture was so old that all of the chrome had been scrubbed off of it.  Seriously, I’d never seen that before; scrubbed to the point of “no longer shiny.”  Whatever, at least it all looked clean.

I changed into workout gear and went to the fitness center, which was last upgraded in the early 90s. How do I know? Age of the equipment coupled with some pictures showing women in that era workout clothing (think Flashdance) and a poster with an invitation to an “aerobics class.” All the equipment was in sound working order, though, so I got a very satisfying hour in.

The 1st Shower

Back in my room, I hit the shower before meeting my fellow trainer for dinner. It took about forty five seconds for the water to get warmish and it never really got hot. I finally took a quick, warmish shower, got dressed and headed out to eat.
In retrospect, I should have gone to the Front Desk right then to ask for another room. No hot water at 5:00 pm is a really bad sign. There just aren’t that many people using hot water then. But, hey, I was thinking about a beer not a shower!

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

My alarm went off at 5:30 but I was already awake. I shut it off, turned on the TV to catch the headlines, and then headed to the bathroom for my morning routine. (MB laughs at me because I’m so routinized. Honestly, if I didn’t do it this way I’d forget what I was doing. I’m barely awake for the first half hour of my day.)

I reached into the shower and turned the water to the hottest setting.  Plenty of water, but no temperature change; it felt like a water fountain. I let it run for another minute or so and felt it again.  Nope, still cold.  I waited another couple of minutes, walking back out to look at the TV before checking again.  I walked back into the bathroom, expecting to see the mirror steaming up. No dice. Cold as a gravestone.  Great.

I turned off the water and called the front desk. On the third ring I heard, “Good morning, Front Desk, this is Kelly. How can I help you?”

“Kelly, has anyone called to report that there’s no hot water?” I was trying to sound angry at the hotel without sounding angry at her, she sounded so happy.

“No one else has called, sir. Should I send Maintenance up to your room?” (For what? To tell me there’s no hot water? I already got that part.)

“I don’t see how that would help. Please just tell them to fix it.” I slammed the phone down. (Have you noticed that you can’t do that with a cell phone? You can’t even hang up on someone anymore and make it sound like you mean it! I really miss those big, honking Ma Bell telephones. When you slammed one of those down, everybody knew you were pissed!)
It's a weapon, too!
Enough time had been wasted by this point that I’d need to gut out a cold shower. I made it as brief as I could, thankful that I’d showered the night before after my workout. I also managed a cold water shave which, for me, is just as pleasant as running my fingernails on a chalkboard. But I tried to do it with a smile on my face because you should never shave, or send an email to your boss, when you’re angry. I did notice that it’s hard to be pissed off when you’re taking a cold shower; you can’t help but giggle while you’re doing it.

The Front Desk

I stopped in the meeting room and talked to my co-trainer. She said there was no hot water in her room, either. From there, I went into the ballroom where breakfast was being served. There were probably fifty or so people, from other companies, eating together. I overheard a number of laughing conversations about cold showers.  Evidently, this was a big deal.

After I ate, I walked to the front desk where I found the aforementioned, Kelly, who greeted me with a smile.

“Hi, I’m in 2317. There’s still no hot water.”  She looked down at a note on the desk.

“Mr. Keller, I’m so sorry.  Maintenance and our VP of Operations are working on it, right now. Should have it fixed in a jiffy!” She gave me her biggest smile.

“Okay, just wanted to make sure someone was on it. I hate cold showers!” I was trying to sound stern. I’m sure it sounded more like Howard Stern.

“Oh, I do too! Don’t you worry, we’ll have it fixed quickly! Have a good day!” She said this last line as another person approached and I was dismissed.

When our meeting convened, I polled our attendees and found that all but three of us had taken a cold shower. Nice.

The good news was that everyone was wide awake.

Later that night…..

After class, we all went out to dinner as a large group. We returned to the campus around 9:00 and I stopped by the front desk. The night clerk told me that “the hot water problem has been repaired and that we should have no further issues.”
Like all good hostages, I wanted to bond with her and believe every little thing she said.

I thanked her for the update and went to the bar for a nightcap with some of the trainees. By the time I got to my room, it was around eleven. I jumped into bed without even thinking about it and went right to sleep.  Poor dumbass.

Groundhog Day

I woke up before the alarm and lay very quietly, listening. I could hear the sound of water running. At first, I thought it was the air handler but, no, it was water. I didn’t like the sound of that as it was very early. Were people trying to beat the rush? Was Maintenance still “working” on it? Was I still asleep and just peeing the bed?  (Did I mention I’m not very awake when it’s early?)

I rolled out of bed and into the bathroom, turning the shower to ”Hot” before I even got in the tub. The water began as barely warm and then went cold in less than five seconds. Great. I left the water on and went out to watch TV for a few minutes while it “warmed up.”

After ten minutes, I went back into the bathroom to test it. Nope, cold. I walked back out to the phone on the desk in my room and called the Front Desk, again.

“Good morning, Front Desk, this is Kelly. How may I help you?”

“Kelly, I still don’t have hot water.”

“Oh, dear! One other room reported that, too. Have you tried letting it run for a while?”

“About 20 minutes.”

“Ok. Maintenance told me to tell you that you should turn it to Hot, then Cold, then Hot again, then Cold again, and then back to Hot and see if that works.”

“Seriously? In that case, send a Witch Doctor up because the Maintenance guy is an idiot. That’s got to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Okay, shall I send Maintenance up?”

“Yes, please.”

I put on a towel and sat down to start on my email while the water continued to run. After about three minutes, there was a knock at the door and I heard a voice say, “Maintenance.”

I made sure my towel was secure and opened the door.  A Mr. Roper lookalike with a Texas drawl, I’ll call him Sparky, looked up and said, “No hot water, huh?”

Sparky, ready to please the customer
"No hot water?"
I nodded and said, “You got it. Fix it please.” I walked back to the desk and he walked into the bathroom.  From there, I heard him turn the water off, then turn it back on, then off again. Then he turned on the sink, turned on the shower again, and flushed the toilet.

“You definitely don’t have any hot water.” I turned around from the desk to see Sparky had come out from the bathroom.

“Admitting there’s a problem is the first step, Sparky. What’s the next step?”

“I’m working on the room next door, too. Gimme a second, I’ll be right back.” He went out the door of my room, leaving it ajar, and was back in about 30 seconds.

“Got that one fixed! I should have this one in a jiffy.” He said, as he re-entered my room and went back into the bathroom. Evidently a “jiffy” is the hot maintenance term in Texas.

I heard him go through his ritual of off, on, off, on, sink, flush, two or three more times.  Then he left the water running and came out.

“I’ve got plenty of hot water next door. I can’t understand this. We are having some problems with the mixing valves in some of these rooms, they’re kind of old. We were working on it over the holidays, too. I just can’t understand it.”

“You’re telling me this has been going on for over a month and yet these rooms are still being sold to customers??? Ok, Sparky, how soon do you think you can fix it?”

“Well, let me try a few more things.” He went back into the bathroom.

I heard him go through the same ritual, again, and I desperately wanted to ask him if he knew the definition of insanity.  A few minutes went by and he came back out.

“My boss is asking me to meet him down the hall so, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He made as if to leave.

“Hang on. You’ve been at it for 30 minutes and nothing has changed. Your boss wants to see you and leave the customer alone to fend for himself?!?!  I have to be witty and charming in about 15 minutes and that means I’ve got take a cold shower, right now. So, don’t bother coming back in a few minutes. Come back after I’ve left. And please tell your boss, for me, that you need to fix this shit. Today. Have a nice day!” He left rather quickly.

I hate getting pissed off at guys in the trades, nearly as much as I hate taking a cold shower. I know the guy was doing his best with shoddy, old, broken down equipment. I know it wasn’t his fault, although I do question his “technique” for fixing the hot water. (Maybe it was poor training. How deliciously ironic!)

I took the quickest possible shower and went off to my class where I found that only four of us (both of the trainers, of course) had suffered with no hot water. At least they were making progress. One of my trainees made sure to point out that his water had been so hot, he had to turn it down so as not to burn himself.  Bastard.


I managed to avoid going to speak with someone else on the hotel staff about the issue. My co-trainer got our Meeting Planning team, which had arranged the site, on the phone and let them have it. They promised to re-negotiate our deal.

After class, I went back to my room and discovered that the water was now blazing hot. Overjoyed, I changed and went to work out in the fitness center. When I returned to my room, there was still plenty of hot water and I took a luxurious shower before heading off to dinner.  The hot water continued the next morning and I was able to complete my class without stinking up the joint.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s a comfortable bed all three nights and cold showers two out of three days or 67% approval.  In most public school systems, even with No Child Left Behind, that’s a failing grade.  But in twenty five years on the road it’s just another road story. 

Like the time I walked into a hotel room and flipped on the lights to find three people in bed together, but not sleeping, in the room I’d just rented……..

I’ll leave that story for another time.