Sunday, November 25, 2007

Frost's Fork in the Road Ain't Nothing: The Trifurcated Trail

Big Bear, CA--Zener and I met up for a couple of runs this past Thanksgiving holiday up in Big Bear Lake. Day one featured a nice 3.7 ditty in below 40 degree weather, with wind, and a disappearing sun. Oh, yeah, and we were at 7,000 feet above sea level.

Day two saw us completing sprint intervals with push ups and sit ups at Eagle's point. Day three--Zener discovers a trail.

So, we're on this awesome trail that is deep into the woods. You have no idea that you are in Big Bear. The trail is challenging, uphill, downhill, jumping rocks and crevices. We're a good 25-plus minutes into the run and come across three choices for trail continuance. We select one and we're off. Five to ten minutes into this, we see an incredible view of Big Bear Lake and forge on. We then come around a bend and see the silhouette of a man, wearing a backpack, sweatshirt hood over his head, and a wild red beard. He calls out to us, "My dog may run up on you, but he won't bite." Zener knows I have a childhood fear of dogs, so he takes the lead by about ten feet. We approach the mountain main, and I note that he is barely over five feet tall. Then, in the distance I see it. A gray pitbull, running full speed towards us, tongue hanging out, and it is wearing a bandana around its neck like a cowboy. I say to the man, "You're dog's coming." He doesn't look up. "Yeah, keep running, he likes it when you do that." Zener stops and the dog is on him, skids to a stop, gives a low bark, and is ready for play. I swallow the boulder of fear in my throat and give a feeble, "Hey, boy" and pat its head. We then turn to the man and Zener says, "Hey, do you know where this trail ends?" He chortles. Not a laugh, not a giggle, but a low, guttural chortle. "You keep going and you'll end up in Sugarloaf. Two skinny guys like you in Sugarloaf'll stand out." And he laughs this time. Z and I look at each other. I say, "What about getting back to Bear Mountain or Moonridge?" He leans back and says, "I'm going to get into Sugarloaf in about 45 minutes. You keep running you'll get there in twenty-five. You go back the way you came, shoot, it'll take you an hour and twenty minutes to get back." Z and I thank him and turn to head back. He seems disappointed that we aren't going in the same direction. We have no desire to be in Sugarloaf. We get 30 yards away and he yells for us. "Hey, come back and I'll show you a short cut." Zener says quietly, "Deliverance. Deliverance." I think of a hatchet coming out from his jacket or a knife. I"Come on, I'm just a hillbilly." I turn to Z and say, "Come on, let's check it out," and jog towards him. He leans in and says, "See that mound of dirt right there?" It looks about seven or eight feet in length and is about two feet high--the perfect dimensions of a covered body. "Take that direction and you'll hit a trail back to Moonridge. " It is then that I notice what I thought were brown leather gloves, worn from the rugged elements, are actually his hands. The nails were black and gnawed. His gnarled knuckles bore the scars of foraging for roots or, at least, digging in the dirt. We thank him and turn towards the trail. I look back at him and ask, "What's your dog's name?" He pauses a moment, looks at the ground, and then up at me and says, "His name is God." With that, we near the mound of dirt, cross it and disappear down the declivity and race towards civilization. When we silently ponder what we're headed towards, we're both quietly jealous of Hillbilly Bob.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I'm a Troy Football Fan

La Habra, CA--I work at La Habra High School. I am a huge Highlanders fan. But, I am also a Troy High School Football fan.

Just before kickoff of the LH vs. Ocean View HS first round CIF game started, six high school boys entered the field via concrete steps and stood on the sideline. As the person in charge of the game, and a.k.a. the "Sideline Nazi" I instinctively moved toward the boys ready to remove them.

As I came within a few feet, I first noticed that three of the six were wearing Troy High School jackets. I thought, "what are they doing here?" Then, upon scrutinizing their faces, I noticed that four of the six had blue "LH" logos on their cheeks. One of them wore blue eye out.

It hit me--these were the star players from the Troy HS team that was recently disqualified from CIF. I recognized Derek Coleman and at least one of the Sweeney cousins. These guys were at LHHS's game instead of doing a number of things: sitting at home, protesting Fullerton's game, or something else.

Instead, these six guys stood on the sidelines and cheered La Habra. Soon, the story spread down the sideline and Jane and Fred from the La Habra Journal were taking pictures and interviewing the six players.

Dr. Kaufman, LH principal, greeted the players, welcomed them to the stadium, and praised their gesture of sportsmanship. Later, Coach Mazzotta's father, the head coach of Cerritos College, sauntered over and had a conversation with the boys. Mr. Fowler, father of Kyle Fowler (LH middle linebacker) leaned over the railing and chatted with one of the Troy players, asking how they were doing.

After LH was up 35-0, Coleman and Ronnie Hillman, Jr. stood side by side, having a private conversation, shared a chuckle, and then gave a respectful handshake and knuckle tap. Shortly thereafter, the entire starting LH defense walked in a single file line and shook hands with all six Troy players.

Towards the middle of the fourth quarter, Petey Puga and Chris Alvarez had an encouraging talk with the taller of the two Sweeney cousins and discussed possible outcomes, players they admired in the league, and what each was planning to do after graduation.

It was the classiest gesture I have ever witnessed in high school sports. That the Troy players, who really lost everything, came to support a rival is a tribute to the top class program at Troy High School. This kind of action is bred out of solid parenting and coaching that preaches sportsmanship first.

The CIF mantra is "Academics, Integrity, Athletics". Troy is truly and academic institution. They show integrity both on and off the field as exemplified by the "Troy Six". They are a school that had produced great high school athletes. The tragedy is that their football team isn't competing in the CIF playoffs. The victory is that six of their players--torch bearers for the entire program--took the first step towards overcoming the setback.

Kudos to the Troy Warriors, their coaches, teachers, and parents.

Joe Henry Shares Stage, but Upstages Humbly

Los Angeles, CA--Friday, November, 9th, 2007. Boy Scout outing. Dinner. On the road in the new BMW with navigation--no chance of getting lost, and detour option to maximize time.

So, the ticket says, "LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III and Joe Henry." Loudon's name is one or two point font sizes larger and appears first. Okay, no problem. Prior to the show, I'd never heard of Mr. Wainwright. Nevertheless, I settled into my seat in a mostly 40s and 50sish crowd.

Loudon takes the stage, sans Joe, and begins the set. He plays three or four songs before Joe joins him to loud applause. Joe backs him for the next few songs, before Loudon exits stage right.

Joe then jumps into "Civil War" and I thought for a moment he was lip-syncing to the CD--not because he was out of sync but, rather, because it sounded just like the recording. Joe played this tune a bit slower than the CD but mesmerized the crowd nonetheless. He followed with "Time is a Lion" and "Parker's Mood" both haunting performances.

He then said, "here is a tune that changed everything about my song writing." The band and Joe played "This Afternoon" which brought down the house. This song is so trademark Joe--he is one of the few songwriters who can take one word and stretch it out over several bars of music, using each syllable as its own phrase.

The difficult horn parts were performed by the guitarist on an acoustic slide guitar to utter perfection.

Loudon later joined Joe to finish the set and for an encore. Although Wainwright was the headliner and Joe billed as guest, it was clearly Joe Henry for whom the crowd came to see. When all was said and done, I'd completed the triumvirate of the year--Wilco, Sexton, and Henry.