Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, June 12 2016, a Family Journey
Photo of Alcatraz taken by Dylan the day before Escape From Alcatraz Tri, June 11 2016
“JUMP. JUMP. GO.GO. GO. DO NOT HESITATE.”
The cadence and volume of the start coordinator at our exit from the boat was frenetic enough to suggest that “GO!” and “JUMP!!!” were only precursors to exponentially more calamitous communiques along the lines of “stampede,” “iceberg,” “abandon ship,” and “Jesus Christ, did you see the size of that shark!!!”
I had been expecting “Ready. Set. Go,” lightly seasoned with the soothing preamble of “good morning” and “have a great race.”
The Escape From Alcatraz triathlon is to your standard Olympic triathlon what Metallica’s single St. Anger is to Miles Davis’ My Funny Valentine. It’s The Shining compared to The Notebook, The Godfather to Mr. Ed, or more apropos, Jaws to Finding Nemo. If you survive the “1.5 mile” swim from Alcatraz to the sliver of a beach just west of the St Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco (you are allowed 60 minutes max), you continue with a ½ mile warm-up run to your bike, followed by an 18 mile bike ride (17 miles of which is uphill) capped off with a brisk 8 mile run (112 miles of which is uphill, through sand, and into the wind). Completely unreliable sources report the race course was designed initially in 1320 by someone named Dante and adopted later by the Spanish Inquisition (something I wasn’t expecting). The word Alcatraz, often confused for a Spanish word meaning “Pelican,” is more accurately translated from old Arabic to mean “dragged breathless into the gloomy depths.”
The entire premise of the event is a little off the charts. As a native San Franciscan who has spent hundreds of hours sailing inside, outside, and around The Golden Gate, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the #1 guiding principle under sail is “stay on the boat.” The logic behind that adage closely aligns with the reason they chose Alcatraz for a prison. If the guards didn’t shoot you as you bolted over the wall, it was pretty much guaranteed that between the current, the bitter cold, the chop, and the occasional Great White (that’s a reference to a shark, not a large Caucasian), the swim would kill you.
And as for biking and running, should you actually make shore, San Francisco ranks second to the Himalayas as a geographic region least likely to be referenced as “flatland.”
The press limits and fixates its reporting of earthquakes to measurements on the Richter scale. They toss us a number, usually projected at the epicenter of a target behind them, and we take their dollop of science and run with it. The higher the number, the greater the pucker factor. Done.
But the Richter scale is only a sliver of the seismic puzzle, only one data point in the more complex schematic of sphincter compression. For example, what the reports always omit is the duration of the event. An earthquake of 8.0 that only lasts 3 seconds will spill your coffee and call for a new set of briefs, but not much more. On the other hand, a 5.2 that shakes for a full minute can bury you and take down a city and its gilded towers.
Reports estimate that about 400,000 people participated in the Women’s March in New York City yesterday. But while size matters, those numbers barely scratch the surface of the seismic power of the day. They have presented a Richter number out of context, providing about as much information and insight as reporting only the number of pages in War and Peace.
Today we honor Dr. Martin Luther King. In four days, Donald Trump will become our 45th president.
It was the best of minds. It is the worst of minds. The juxtaposition between these two men boggles any mind.
Dr. King was unmatched as a courageous visionary, a brilliant and enlightened man of peace who lifted the nation up from hatred, ignorance and fear. What a shameful contrast to see our president elect, a man of small hands and smaller intellect, luxuriate in his narcissism by fanning the embers of hate and fear, preying on ignorance, malaise and greed.
I listen to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech every year. I remind myself that the truth and power of his words still shed light on the shadows. They inspire me to speak loudly, consistently, peacefully and without hate. See it here http://bit.ly/2jBqzuC or read it here http://bit.ly/2jokkgs.
It took great courage and resolve to march back in 1963. It will take courage, tenacity and the conviction of truth over rhetoric to once again transform “the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
A man can dream.
I imagine that Donald Trump is struggling to find the appropriate words to thank America for placing his apprenticeship at the helm and electing him into office. Perhaps this letter will help him to express his gratitude.
To My Fellow Americans,
It is with feigned humility that I thank you for this incredible honor to serve as your next president of the formerly United States. I owe an incredible debt of gratitude to so many, so so many, that it is truly hard to know where to begin to say thank you.
But let me begin with a nod to America’s media networks for creating and fanning an environment in which rabid sensationalism has completely obscured any interest in perspective, measured discussion or thoughtful disagreement. Thank you for valuing spectacle and speculation over substance, veracity, and integrity. God bless The Housewives of New Jersey and all of reality TV for fomenting an obsession with celebrity, mindless animosity and conflict, and for normalizing my candidacy.
How can I properly say thank you to the news organizations and their pundits and personalities that amplified my outrageous antics while so graciously muting even a whisper of accountability or insistence on the facts. You saved me millions in paid advertising, and together we elevated the antiquated notion of news to the riveting ratings-generator of reality TV.
And a quick shout out to so many celebrity news anchors and their mildly penetrating interviews that allowed me to slide on the minor distractions of foreign policy, my tax returns, and any inconsistencies between my words and actual facts. After I name my cabinet, I will be putting together a softball team, and you have all earned your place as all-stars.
Next I have to say thank you to my Russian PR firm and WikiLeaks. Your relentless trickle of unsubstantiated documents was a Chinese water torture to crooked Hillary’s campaign. Tell Vladimir I look forward to working with him.
And then, of course, I owe an unfathomable debt of gratitude to James Comey. When things were looking bleakest, he took it upon himself to courageously disregard law and the long established FBI policy of not interfering with or affecting the result of an election. I am moved by the courage and duplicity it took to fan the flames of rumor without even the remotest trace of substance. Down the Hatch, my friend.
But to two groups I am most indebted. First, to many of the Bernie faithful, who despite his insistence and despite their alleged allegiance to the self-proclaimed revolutionary, stoically turned a deaf ear to his directives and opted not to vote for Hillary. I am dumbfounded but giddy, and applaud their protest votes for Johnson. You are what you vote for.
But overshadowing them, Comey, team Russia, and our news networks, are the true lifeblood of my campaign. And no, I am not tipping my hood to those racists, fellow misogynists, or the undereducated that made up a large part of my constituency. There are roughly 231,556,622 registered voters out there. My heart swells with appreciation to the approximately 108,905,386 who didn’t vote. A wink to the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Voting Rights Act in 2013. But God Bless You! By malaise, indifference, disdain, or protest you took yourselves out of the game. You forfeited. You willingly abdicated your say in the Supreme Court, equal rights, the economy, foreign policy, climate change, woman’s rights, gun control, basic decency and civility, in essence – everything. By so graciously rendering yourself insignificant, which is what you did, I have been hired by just a sliver over 25% of eligible voters, fewer in number than those that voted for Hillary. I am sure you are as proud of yourselves and the Electoral College as I am of you.
Thank you. God Bless America. Looking forward to putting the bully back into the bully pulpit,
Your President Elect
On Sunday, September 25, 2016, our family took a 4:30 AM trek from Chestnut Ridge to Rye Beach in NY where my 16-year-old son Elijah, 18-year-old daughter Dylan and I participated in the Zoot Westchester Olympic Triathlon. Here are a few reflections on the day.
The Art of Tri
The essence of my Tri strategy builds on the core premise that the road to victory or at least a “personal best,” is built squarely on the back of experience. Participate in enough triathlons, and you will eventually swim, ride, and run to your rightful place at the podium. The math, even for me, is simple. Clock a 2hr 37min Olympic tri at age 53, and by the time you reach 75, you will have shaved a good 30 minutes off that personal best.
As sound and obvious as the theory reads on paper, a few minor inconsistencies in the data suggest I may have failed to account for some unforeseen variables. Case in point, beginning with triathlon #3 and extending to and through the next 4, my times have not, in the strictest sense of the word, improved. Not to put too fine a point on it, and if you can believe the official time keepers, there is a fairly strong argument to suggest I’ve gotten progressively slower.
Sunday marked my 7th Westchester Triathlon, my 8th Olympic since I started dabbling in the sport in 2009, and most rewarding, the third time I have raced with my son and daughter. I stood at the starting line at Rye Beach pumped, poised, pacing, and bristling with all the confidence, exuberance, and anticipation that an 8th season can instill. Wide eyed, nostrils flaring, champing at the bit, a thoroughbred in the gates (hold references to Mr. Ed please), I was on the cusp of obliterating any nagging shadows of doubt that threatened to undermine the absolute truth that is the invincibility of experience.
58-year-old rocket man on the beach. Buckle up. Theory in practice. Don’t blink.
Elijah, Dylan and Ed 6:30 AM, ready for the start
As I look back on the race, I can trace the first variable to the start, which is surprising given how perfectly the morning and the stage seemed to have been set. Outside of starting a couple of hours later, a nice cappuccino and perhaps an additional 10 degrees, conditions could not have been better. It was a brisk 52, stunningly clear and nearly windless. I had my kids at my side, my wife Reggie rooting us on from the boardwalk, and Uptown Funk, Moves Like Jagger, and a hit parade of upbeat grooves amping us up as we counted down to the start. As the sun inched up over Montauk across the Sound, majestically poised to blind every swimmer sighting to the outer buoy, they piped in Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of the national anthem, and then the sea of close to 1000 athletes cheered, and the first herd of colored caps lined up in the starting gate.
Gentlemen, ladies, and gender ambivalent, start your engines.
In hindsight, it’s painfully clear that the men’s sauna at the local gym is not the place to voice an opinion, especially one that might get you into a heated altercation, not that there can be any other type of altercation in the men’s sauna. There are several key arguments that support this premise. For one thing, the men in the sauna tend to be in great shape, strong, aggressive, and not always members of the local MENSA chapter. For another, the physical space of the sauna is quite restrictive, with a single exit and therefore no viable option for an expedient retreat. And finally, and perhaps not the least significant, everyone is naked.
Naked arguments rarely end well.
I had no intention of firing up a conversation or voicing an opinion of any kind when I walked into the sauna the other day, though I did immediately notice the barely over 5 foot tall, very square and swarthy guy talking up a storm to the other three listeners in the room. His name was Nicky, which I knew because of the huge gold chain hanging around his neck with the gold cursive word “NICKY” strung on it. I assume he wore it so that in the event he misplaced his head, someone would know where to return it. His audience sat on the second and third benches above him. They wore towels and were listening while Nicky held court.
Nicky stood with his right foot on the ground and his left leg resting high up on the first bench. He leaned his left shoulder against the wall and wore no towel. In sign language, this pose translates universally to the sentence, “can everyone see my dick?” He was shaving as he spoke, gesturing occasionally in between strokes of the razor, and touching himself fairly frequently to make sure everyone was keeping their eyes on the ball.
It wasn’t his exhibitionist pose that prompted me to speak, and there was nothing about his middling shortcomings that merited a comment outside of a shrug or a yawn. I wasn’t even listening to whatever drivel he was spewing to the other guys on the bench. But a few sentences in, and after shaving half of the right side of his face, he leaned forward and banged his razor on the seat, leaving a frothing little mound of shaving cream and stubble where one of us was bound to sit. Little rivulets of whiskers and Gillett shaving gel melted and slipped off the edge of the bench and into the seams of the wood.
And without really intending it, the word “HEY!” slipped out of my mouth.
Nicky stopped talking, and with palms out about groin level, as if I had somehow insulted his manhood, said, “What!?”
The obvious response at that point, would have been to reply “nothing.” But what came out instead were several rapid sentences that went into a little too much detail about how he had no business distributing his stubble all over the bench where people sit.
At that point, Nicky and his dangling trio took several steps to where I was perched on the lower bench. He stopped about a foot away from me and propped his left leg back up on the bench so he, his balls and I could settle this head to head. Adding disgusting to awkward, he was sweating like a pig, and the shaving cream remaining on the ¾’s of his face that he hadn’t yet shaved had formed little beads and began dripping off his face as he leaned forward, landing dangerously close to my right thigh. Then he read me the riot act about how it was none of my fucking business what he did and, furthermore, was my “sweaty ass on the bench any better than the shit coming off of his razor.”
I did have the sense not to respond to what I assumed to be a rhetorical question, at which point he – he of “look at my dick” fame – settled back to his corner pose calling me a “fucking queer.”
The seminal point in our discourse, however, came several moments later. He was blathering on about something, accenting his oratory every so often by glaring at me while he banged his razor clean on the wooden slats. I had tuned him out and had no intention of reengaging, when I caught a phrase about “some bitch” followed by the statement to the men on the bench of, “…I’m divorced, you know.”
Before I could think, the words “imagine that!” just kind of slipped out, far more loudly than I had intended. The silence that followed was broken by someone else entering the sauna, and I took advantage of the moment to slip out quietly and uninjured before too many thoughts could coalesce in Nicky’s head.
I saw him again several days later in the parking lot. He drove a bright red convertible Mercedes. He had the top down, and took the short route out of the lot, leaving the wrong way on a one way, flipping off the incoming right of way driver on his way out.
Though I’m sure it’s not in the context that Nicky had intended, when the world sees him, the consensus is unanimous. What a dick.
Gandhi, Dr. King, Lincoln, Bhutto, Mandela, Malala. These names blaze as beacons of courage, enlightenment, hope, social justice, integrity and resolve. Each exposed and confronted injustice at great personal expense, never skulking in the shadows, never cowering from threats, never mistaking violence for courage and always recognizing hatred for the gross extension of ignorance that it is.
I think of these names, not in the face of the mockery of leadership that is potentially Trump or Clinton, but as a staggering counterpoint to the cowards behind Charlie Hebdo, the attacks in Lebanon, Paris, Mali, a host of others, and now Munich and Nice. I think of these names to magnify the difference between true emissaries of lasting change and awareness, and ignorant brutal thugs. I think of them to underscore the expansive chasm that exists between courage and cowardice, between a true cause and mindless chaos.
We call them terrorists, which adds a perverse sense of legitimacy to their actions. We should stop that. We need to label them for what they are – cowards.
We sensationalize their actions in 24 x 7 news cycles, which also adds a perverse sense of legitimacy to their actions. We should stop that too.
Yes, report their acts of ignorance. Expose the facts. But lose the mega-font “TERROR IN….” backdrop and the frenetic 24×7 blather. Then diffuse their twisted fundamentalist rhetoric by accentuating the truth that their only voice or “cause” is, once again, mindless and spineless brutality against unarmed and unsuspecting, women, men and children – of all colors and creeds.
Our world is blessed with prolific acts of courage, sacrifice, support, community, love, inclusion and commitment. Let’s laud the courageous. Let’s highlight and nurture acts of acceptance, creativity, kindness and unity.
Let’s fan the flames of hope rather than drive the ratings and radicals that feast on fear.