Archives for the month of: May, 2013

It’s 6 am and I’m drinking a cup of coffee and listening to ‘Blues Masters Volume 1.

‘Crazy about you baby but I just ain’t got the price.’

‘You’re a high class momma so I guess it ain’t no dice.’

‘Going back home getting my old gal Sue.’

‘She ain’t the caviar kind, just plain old kidney stew.’

‘Old kidney stew, old kidney stew is fine.’

Kidney Stew Blues is maybe one of the best blues songs of all time. The horn work is amazing. And I know it ain’t exactly a song about food but somehow it makes me hungry just the same.

The sun will be up in another hour and this in-between time is the quietest moment of the day. I look at my watch and see that breakfast is still an hour and a half away. I am thinking this morning it’s going to be one of Gaby’s specials like her chopped pork ribs that have been slow cooked in green sauce for a couple of hours; served with frijoles and fresh made tortillas. Oh yeah, that sounds good.

While I am on the subject of food here’s a short story from my last run. I was just 40 minutes into my run at that place where I hit that U-shaped viaduct that crosses part of the canal. When the thing is full of water I have to walk across the top of it which scares the crap out of me because it’s a 30 foot walk across a 6” wide concrete wall suspended 10’ over the top of the canal that you just don’t even want to fall into. The water is a disturbing yellow green and I just know it is full of all kinds of pesticides and insecticides, deadly mutated poisonous snakes and other stuff that you just don’t want to know a thing about.

I see a couple of men on the west side of it and my first thought immediately goes to ‘I sure hope they don’t have a dog’. I hail them before I begin my crossing so that I don’t surprise them and if they do have a dog it doesn’t chase me snarling into the canal. They tell me to come over and join them. I skinnied through a narrow barbed wire gate to see a dozen men and boys having a cook out. They had some fish steaks bubbling in a clear broth over one open fire and a big pot of soup simmering over another. They ask me what I am doing; a few of them openly smiling with the merest hint of contempt for this dusty sandal wearing old gringo with the rag tied around his head. I tell them I am out for a run and a couple of them mumble the word ‘run’ like it’s some kind of unimaginable concept.

One of them thrusts a bowl into my hand and ladles some soup into it. I am not hungry and would rather get back to my run but their hospitality is not to be refused.  It smelled good. The bowl had chunks of tomato and potato and small boney pieces of white meat. My host squeezed some fresh lime into my bowl, added some chilies and then pinched in some salt. He grabbed a piece of fish out of the bubbling broth with his fingers and added it to my bowl. There were tortillas to serve as makeshift spoons so I dug in.

It was pretty tasty stuff. I spit the small bones into my hand then pitched them into the canal. I was halfway through my bowl when my host told me that they did a cook out regularly. They all liked to hunt and fish and everything that we were eating had come local. He pointed with a greasy thumb over his shoulder and told me that they had shot those ducks and caught those fish right out there in the canal.

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The afternoon clouds are once again stacking up on the horizon signalling the beginning of rainy season.

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After 7 months of dry season where it seemed each morning’s sunrise was more glorious than the previous; the drama now shifts to the late afternoons peaking with an equally unimaginably beautiful setting sun.

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It is 6:25 am and I am listening to disc 1 of the Corelli Concerto Grosso which in my humble opinion ranks in the top ten of the most beautiful music ever created. I get the same feeling listening to it as I do Bach and wonder how a man can create something so perfect. I am drinking a cup of locally grown coffee that has been roasted and ground to Italian perfection. The air is cool and still.

I played basketball with Raoul for a couple of minutes this morning while waiting for my coffee to brew. It was my way of thanking him for turning on the water spicket in my laundry area sometime last night and letting it run. To do that he had Raoul Jr. creep over our common wall and climb down into my mostly roofless laundry area. I think it is his way of telling me that he can ‘get’ me. Fortunately Raoul is a moron who hasn’t the where-for-all to do anything more serious (or so I hope) than waste the municipality’s water.

Today is Day 3. Only 3 days remain until I meet up with Sarah in Minneapolis. And Saturday is the day we begin our epic run. I am smiling at the word epic. I’d be laughing if I combined it with another adjective like super to make for some amusing hyperbole as when I heard a radio announcer in North Carolina comment that someone had been ‘seriously killed’ in a boating accident.

If I were a bookie I don’t know how I’d handicap our run. Sarah has a sore right foot and I have a sore right foot. Under similar circumstances I’d be giving Seabiscuit an extra ration of oats and a couple of more days off. But we don’t have trainers; we have airplane tickets so we are more or less committed at this point. I am intending to run through the pain and just hope that the Achilles problem doesn’t get any worse. We don’t know how bad Sarah’s problem is. The podiatrist she saw last week said after he viewed the x-ray that it wasn’t a stress fracture but was an impact injury to the joint of the second toe where it meets the foot. Did he read the x-ray right? Who knows? Sarah says her foot is getting better. We’ll see. I ran 3 hours the day before and intend to do a moderately long run today.

Sarah’s hare-brained plan is all finally coming together. She’s already packed up her Washington, DC apartment and the moving guys come today. Her stuff goes to Oregon to await her in September when she begins her post-grad work and she and Daisy (her 15 year old Cockatiel) get on a plane tomorrow for California. We meet in Minneapolis on Friday. I can hardly wait.

There are 3 different ways a person can look at the results of MIT’s research into the manufacturing costs/processes of running shoes: 1)with great scorn because everything has a carbon cost, 2) with ridicule as it seems like a pretty stupid thing to be comparing running shoes to light bulbs, 3) enjoy the analysis for what it was really intended to be. And what’s that? The fact that building a ‘simple’ pair of running shoes might take up to 360 separate process steps with upwards of 65 different parts made out of possibly 24 different synthetic materials. Yikes!

Published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, the research says that the typical pair of running shoes generates 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, a carbon footprint equivalent to keeping a 100-watt lightbulb on for one week. That might not sound like a huge amount of carbon dioxide emissions, but it becomes significant when you consider that, according to the study, about 25 billion of running shoes are sold worldwide every year. More than two-thirds (68%) of the emissions produced by running shoes stem from the manufacturing process. Materials account for another 29%. “For consumer products not requiring electricity during use, the intensity of emissions in the manufacturing phase is atypical,” the study notes. “[M]ost commonly, materials make up the biggest percentage of impact.” The large contribution of manufacturing is because of the complex nature of assembling the typical running shoe. “A single shoe can contain 65 discrete parts that require 360 processing steps for assembly,” the study reports.

I would like to add a further conclusion, that while it’s not part of the direct manufacturing process costs, it remains a cost non-the-less. And that is the hidden cost passed onto the consumer by virtue of the built-in obsolescence that is part of every pair of running shoes. MIT’s manufacturing analysis rightly didn’t include the replacement cost because that is a consumer cost not a manufacturing cost. But it is a cost that has an environmental impact as well. Running shoes need to be replaced every 400 miles which means that serious distance runners will typically go through 8 or more pair of running shoes per year.

That was one of the things that got me into the running sandal business; I got tired of buying running footware that wore out so quickly. Our running sandals have a projected lifetime of 3000 miles which is 7X that of a typical running shoe which obviously means that they are not just a better value proposition for the consumer but also that there is much smaller environmental impact cost because a) much less stuff gets sent to the landfill and b) half the weight of our sandal is recycled material .

Our sandals are just plain simple. It takes fewer than 2 dozen manufacturing process steps to make a pair. We employ 4 primary materials (for a total of 8  discrete parts); 2 of which are recycled and 2 of which are natural versus the typical running shoe that can use upwards of 24 different synthetic materials.
Our motto is  – Sustainability using recycled materials creating products that are built to last.

I just got in from a 2 hour run and I was sitting here thinking while  drinking my second  Pacifico Clara just how freaking effortless it is to do a ‘short’ run.

I remember when I was training for my marathon (CIM) back in ’97 how 2 hours, while it wasn’t significant, was still something that I had to push myself through. I did 14 miles comfortably in 2 hours but I still was extremely aware that I was ‘training’.

Now 16 years later, the same pace; effortless and without thought. Or if there is a thought then it’s ‘2 hours, easy, just a short run today’.

And I am battling dogs, snakes, dust storms, and all kinds of crazy shit running down here in the devil’s own backyard.

I just finished a restorative bowl of menudo. It is a Sunday tradition. Between my damned head cold (day 8) and recently self-inflicted social wound via my attempted beating of my neighbor Raoul I find that I have nothing better to do then to talk about why Tripe soup is so wonderfully delicious.

I can’t go running because of this malingering damned head cold so I need to do something to fill in the time. I don’t have a TV (not that’s constructive) nor even a couch to lie on to watch from even if I did have a TV. Sounds a little like self-pity? It gets better.

I don’t have any books to read unless you count the free stuff that Google so magnanimously gave away in their much over publicized Project Gutenberg. I am wearying of reading stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day in 100 years. The language back then was dreadful, as was the dress and social customs. I am plodding through D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’ but it is a pain I reserve for the late afternoon when I have some shade for the hammock and I can see cocktail hour shimmering not so distantly on the horizon. I tried to re-read Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ but after the first 100 pages or so I just wanted to shove an icepick through both eyes. It might be great literature but why does it have to be so unfriendly? There isn’t one sympathetic character in the entire story and the suffering goes on for page after page after page. Is there really redemption to be found in wanting to be punished for one’s crime? Maybe, but does the whole entire book have to be so exclusively about suffering?

The Russian soul suffers (okay) and the Russian artist needs to express that suffering (okay). But isn’t that what poetry is for; not novels? So I say if a Russian needs to suffer on paper then let him do it in 3 or 4 pages, not 400.  Besides if I want to read about suffering then I’ll go straight to the source; the Book of Job. And nobody in the history of the world ever suffered like Job. And the story is so much better than the Russian’s because in the end Job get’s to talk to God. And Job didn’t just kill an old woman with an axe; no, his sin was much more complicated, so hidden in fact that God had to explain it to him.

Best of all the Book of Job had a happy ending. He might have suffered unlike any other man had ever suffered but in the end he gets to speak with God. And how perfect is that? And how many of us haven’t wanted to talk to God? Now in Job’s case more than half the conversation was a one-sided ass-chewing but in the end he was redeemed and then doubly blessed. Now that’s the kind of story about suffering that I want to read.

Oh, yeah, menudo.

For you non-aficionados, menudo is not about the tripe. Menudo is more about the sum of its parts. While it might be that the cook sets in front of you a bowl of red broth with a bunch of chopped up stomach bits submerged in it; it’s the other things that make the soup shine. First, you dump in precisely 3 heaping tablespoons of finely chopped white onion. You then take a largish pinch of oregano from the communal bowl and grind it into a dust like consistency as you add it to the bowl. Then you squeeze the juice of one or two small limes to the broth before adding a small measure of an extremely hot orange colored chili sauce made from what I would reckon to be pure habaneros. You stir the mixture together before taking the first spoonful. The flavors are: spicy red broth, citrus, heat, oregano, and fatty unctuousness. And the textures are crunchy, chewy, and gelatinous. Freshly squeezed orange juice is a suitable accompanying beverage although cerveza is better. But unfortunately 8 am is too early for most of us to be drinking beer. The only side dish is a cloth napkin covered plate of freshly made corn tortillas.

Malcolm Gladwell in his best selling book ‘The Tipping Point’ suggested and demonstrated with numerous examples that the solutions to big problems often lay in a bottoms up approach; by tackling the smaller bits first.

My mother has often said, ‘If you watch the pennies the dollars will take care of themselves’. I always thought that was so home-spun, way over-simplistic, and too countrified to ever be of any real practical use until I realized about 10 years ago that she’s been right all along.

Since I moved here, I started to wash my clothes by hand in the tub out back and air-dry them on the clothesline up on the terrace. Why? I reckon just because it is easy and simple (and it’s not like I got a lot to wash any way).

My Spanish teacher, Salvador Segura, has developed a very low cost, easy to implement passive solar water heater. He created and implemented the first system to cut back on his own gas bill. He has a very modest income, a son with MS and so every peso is precious. Salvador is now writing a business plan to present to local, state, and national governments to see if his idea could be genned up into a program to help other people of modest means living here in Mexico.

Salvador, like a lot of other people in this area manage to live quite well on 200-300 pesos per day. They eat healthy, many commute on bicycles, and their entertainment is for the most part free (and outside) courtesy of the seemingly endless fiestas that center mostly in and around the plaza.

I like living in an area where people just naturally gravitate towards doing more with less. And its culture of practicality implies that the natural beginning point is to first look at what one already has available at hand (and where a new purchase is the absolute last option).

It is easy here to buy locally made and locally produced. I don’t think that there is anything in my house, short of a couple of plastic pots or the few things that I brought with me, that aren’t locally made.

I buy all my food fresh daily from the Mercado. And the sandals I wear every day were made right here too.

Life is good.

I learned yesterday afternoon that Raoul is going to be moving. I did not want it to come to that but that was the wishes of the owners of the house. And yes, they heard in great detail and from more than one person what this crazy gringo had done. I even confessed as much to the landlord: that I started it, that I lost my temper and that I wanted to kick his ass.

I said in the ‘Almost went to jail’ post that my neighbors probably like me, especially when I wasn’t beating on Raoul’s house. Several neighbors expressed sentiments as such when they hoped I wouldn’t move. But if the truth were know I am probably enjoyed more as the singular cultural oddity that lives on Calle Victoria than I am for being a nice guy.

So while I am highly culpable with respect to the recent events it can be equally said that Raoul and family are not very nice people. Imagine if you will the complete paranoia that follows on when your next door neighbor tries to break into your house while you’re away.

And before the masterminded break-in attempt (you’d have to meet Raoul to understand the extremity of my sarcasm) I had given him and his wife some good paying weekend work by which they repaid me by overcharging and turning in poor quality pieces. The work was going to have been an ongoing endeavor until his greed and stupidity quickly scotched the deal (sorry Paul).

And he played me for a fool, mistaking my generosity for weakness. I find it highly ironic that Raoul perceives himself to be both wily and clever while in fact his could be that grinning imbecilic face on that poster with the caption ‘sometimes a man is so far behind in a race that he thinks he’s ahead’.

Raoul, Jr is a smaller, more dangerous version of his father. I only reckon him to be the more dangerous because he doesn’t exhibit the same sly soft-spoken caution of his father. Raoul indirectly threatened me a few months ago, that I should ‘watch out’ because Raoul, Jr was in a gang. That wasn’t surprising news. The kid had always given me the impression that he was capable of doing something incredibly stupid because he lacked both the patience and maturity to think it through first.

I don’t like these people. And I freely admit that a big part of me is glad that they are leaving. Something is very wrong when you’ve got to be ever mindful to close and lock your supposedly private 3rd floor terrace door every time you take a shower. And to continually be on guard with the front gate always locked and bolted. The same personal safety concerns had me take the precaution yesterday of moving my bed from the back bedroom to a central bedroom just so I am not an accessible target while I sleep. And that is not an unreasonable fear because I am quite certain that both Raoul and Raoul, Jr. are stupid enough to believe that they could shoot me while I slept and get away with it. And the scary thing is they probably could. What about the guy that caused gringo Dave’s untimely demise a couple of month’s ago? He didn’t spend a single night in jail, let alone wear a pair of handcuffs; even for a minute (see the ‘Leo’ post).

Continuing on with the post-script, I apologized to most of my neighbors and left flowers on the doors of the closest half dozen houses the morning after. Half a dozen people asked me on my way to the Mercado that morning why the police were at my house. I told each and everyone the facts of the matter; that the bastard had previously tried to break into my house and that my wanting to kick Raoul’s ass was bigger than just the loud music, that I finally had enough and just snapped.

Am I worried about Raoul? No, not really. Cormac McCarthy talking about horses said, ‘They ain’t worried about stuff they can see, it’s the stuff they can’t see that worries them’. And I got my eye on Raoul.

W. Somerset Maugham says it best for me in the preface he wrote for John O’Hara’s brilliant little novel called ‘Appointment in Samarra’ published in 1934. He retold the old story where a servant returned running back from market in Damascus and said ‘Master, master! Lend me your fastest horse so that I can flee to Samarra and escape my fate!’ The master told him to calm down and asked him what happened. And the servant said, ‘while I was in the market doing your bidding I happened to jostle an old woman, who in turning, I saw that she was Death. So lend me your fastest horse that I may flee to Samarra and escape my fate!’ The master told him to get a horse and go. He was curious so he went down to the market in Damascus to investigate. He found the old woman and she was in fact Death. He asked, ‘Death why did you frighten my servant so?’ Death merely shrugged, ‘I did not mean to frighten him. I was merely surprised to see him. For tonight I have an appointment with him in Samarra’.

I am meeting Sarah in Minnesota in 14 days where we will spend the next 30 days doing an extended running tour of the north central US. And all things considered it is probably time to get out of Mexico and see how the folks back home are doing. But wouldn’t it be a bizarre twist of fate to think that a benign place like Minnesota could be my Samarra? I say that as I recollect the story I read in the papers a couple of days ago about the guy who got hit by a pick up truck and killed in Oregon while trying to bounce a soccer ball the 10,000 miles from Seattle to Brazil. Sometimes a man just can’t catch a break in this world; shit happens and all that, right?

I lost my temper with Raoul and family over their [again] loud Banda music. Bouncing the basketball wasn’t seeming to make much of an impression so I called him out on to the street (venga aca pendejo ) and then said over and over that I wanted to kick his ass.

I beat on his front door so long and so hard my fist was bleeding. And in the doing accidentally broke their front door window (which then translated into breaking, what I was told later, was 3 different laws).

He sensibly didn’t come out but called the police instead.

The police came (automatic rifles and all).

I would most definitely be in jail right now if it weren’t for Pancho’s intervention.

As it was I paid 700 pesos in damages and gave the entire neighborhood some excitement.

Luckily the neighbors like me.

(I guess they consider me to be a pretty nice guy when I am not beating on Raoul’s house)

PS – I am hoping that the post-script to this story is teeny, tiny small as I came to the opinion while living in Washington, DC that a gunshot wound was never any further than just a small misunderstanding away.

There are only 18 days to go until we arrive in Minneapolis on the 31st to kick off the Grand Plan.

Sarah told me yesterday that she might have a stress fracture in her right foot (that’s what running a 3:07 marathon can do to you) and my training is being impacted by a serious 3 day old head cold.  Joy.

And there are some further but more minor complications like our preparations which have been all talk up until this point. But in all seriousness, how do you prepare for something that you’ve never done before?

It’s not like many people take their children on running vacations. And there aren’t a lot of books out there on how to manage the logistics of 1500 km, 30 day run. And for whatever reason, we don’t even have the exact route finalized yet. But we will. Running ain’t exactly very complicated and we’re going to do a big circle anyway. So hard can that be?

Now the professional record setters have to plan. Take Marshall Ulrich in his record setting 53 day run across the United States. He and his team spent weeks if not months garnering support, preparing, and planning.

And during the run he used a cargo van and support crew (including a masseuse) to keep him on course. When you’re seriously after a record you need people to run WiFi powered laptops and monitor GPS enabled smartphones; vigilant eyes watching maps, logging the distances, buying/preparing food, feeding you, pacing you and cajoling you as you run. Your job is to set a new record. Period.

In contrast, the entire effort expended so far by ‘Team Johan’ on our entire planning, logistical, and support preparedness is analogous to what I would imagine would be akin to something like the output of a bunch of maniacally dedicated gerbils spinning furiously in their treadmills; lots of happy thoughts and some sore feet.

But that might not be entirely fair as it’s not like we are completely empty handed or totally lacking in plans or resources at this point.

So far I have hunted and gathered 10 kilos of pinole to use as foodstuff along the way. And our support vehicle is going to be a second-hand retro-fitted baby jogging stroller. And we’re running in a big loop. Again, how hard can that be? In the immortal words of my running partner, [it might just be] ‘pure genius’.

I made it out to Los Negritos and back for a total of 40 km which I did in 3.5 hours. 40 km (24 miles) was the goal that I set for myself 5 months ago when Sarah conceived of this hare-brained plan back in December to do a month long run the following summer.

I figured if I could do 40 km without any problem then I figured it would be bet-worthy to go along with her plan.

Post-run, the Achilles are [both] tight but that appears to be the extent of my soreness. And the fact that they are both tight is better than just the right one being hosed [again].

I am very happy with the results of the run. Extrapolating the time distance to a marathon would mean I would have turned in a 3:49 time; which is much better than what I did 16 years ago when I ran the California International Marathon in a 4:48 time (I think). But I cramped up at mile 20 which speaks volumes about my then training regime; meaning I didn’t have enough long training runs under my belt.

The longest run that I had done up until this Los Negritos run was 18 miles. So tacking on another 6 miles was almost anti-climatic.

So the simple fact that I did 24 mile run without cramps or any other problems makes me feel pretty good. And I did in sandals!

The sandals are proving to be awesome: good protection (against the rocks here in the devil’s own backyard), good motion control, and so light you don’t even really know that they are there.

Life doesn’t get much better for this old gringo runner.