On July 11, 2013 I went for my first run. My week had started with the intention to ride my bike, lose weight, and get healthier. I tried riding my bike for half a mile on July 9th. I made it half a mile and my hip started hurting to the point where I couldn’t ride the bike. I made myself ride eight miles the next day. Same thing. Hip hurt.
Hell bent on my newfound quest for cardio health, I decided that if I couldn’t ride, I would try to run. So in the early afternoon of July 11th, I walked up the hill to the local middle school track and I ran 1 mile as fast as I could, just to see if I could do it.
I’m now officially entering week 6 of my training block for the Boston Marathon. For most of last week and intentionally remembered that my 8-year runniversary was coming up on Sunday. I looked at my training plan mid-week and noted that I had a 14-miler planned for my 8th runniversary. However, yesterday morning, and all during that 14-miler, I’d totally forgotten that it was my runniversary. I guess it’s not as big of a deal as I have it made up in my head.
Yesterday’s 14-miler was a slog. I didn’t get out until after 10 a.m., so it was still, humid and hot. The first hour wasn’t too bad as there was cloud cover, but after that hour, the sun poked out and it got hotter. I intentionally took it slow, but I was dogging it. It probably didn’t help that I’d spent 12 hours and driven 500 miles the day before driving to and from Big Sandy to pick Maly up from camp, and then didn’t get my run in until the early evening on Saturday.
It’s hard to believe that 8 years have already passed. It’s funny – when I first started running and getting enthusiastic about all things running, I rabidly consumed articles and videos about running. I was teaching myself everything about running. I very vividly remember reading some article about how a runner peaks or plateaus at around 7 years. And that number has stuck in my head. Honestly I don’t hold 7 years as some kind of truth. If anything, I see it as a kind of challenge. An opportunity to dispel some old wives’ tale. But in a way, I’m kind of embracing it too. I did some pretty cool “peak” things when I hit my 7-year mark in running. I did things I never set out to do when I started running. I ran two of my fastest marathons and I ran a 50-mile trail race.
Is it all downhill from here? Is it uphill? Honestly, I don’t really mind either way. I might have another sub-3 marathon in me. But I don’t really have a reason to run 26 miles that fast. I’ve done that. I could PR in some shorter distances. Or I could hit the trails again and go farther. Or both. And sprinkle in some other things. I don’t know. I have no plans as of this moment.
And that’s one of the coolest things about running. You can always set some new kind of goal(s). Or not set any goals at all and just get out and run for the hell of it.
I wasn’t even thinking about it when I walked through the doors. I’d driven over to 7-11 yesterday to get a couple fountain drinks for Elise and me. There was an employee standing behind a table toward the back of the store. She said, “here are the cups for the free Slurpees.” I stood there for a second and then said out loud, “Oh, yeah. Today is 7-11.”
You can’t really pass up free Slurpees. And that’s the prize for running for 8 years. A couple free Slurpees. Personally, I think that’s a little excessive.
Mid-June rolled around and I remembered that Mom’s birthday was coming up. She was born in 1941. I paused for a second, did the math and realized that her 80th birthday was in a couple weeks. I’ve never wanted to think of my parents getting “old.” My dad died the month after he’d turned 70. I never thought of my dad as old after he’d turned 70. Your age is just a number. I’m 45 and if I really think about it, I don’t feel much different than I did when I was 30.
No, I probably do. Things ache now. And my ankles pop whenever I walk. And my knees pop whenever I come up from a hunkered down position. And I’m tired more often nowadays. But I’m still spry. Spry is a word old people use.
80 just seems like a big number when it comes to age. But my parents both never really made a big deal of their ages. I remember when we still lived in Houston my dad had a 50th “over the hill” birthday party at our house. There were black balloons and streamers and a cake with black icing. But that wasn’t by his choice. It was the neighbors and his coworkers that did that for him.
As I’ve gotten older and now have a family of my own, I’ve been focused on my own little family ecosystem. Admittedly my mom and I aren’t as close as we were all throughout my childhood and young adult life. A lot of that is circumstantial and I don’t want to dwell on details. I love my mom and she means the world to me.
I don’t know if this is 100% factual, but the story in my mind is that my parents were on the fence about having a child together. You see, they were each others’ second marriage. My dad and his first wife divorced. My mom’s first husband died. My parents met in their thirties. My dad had two daughters from his first marriage and mom had two boys. Mom always wanted a daughter and so she talked my dad into having a child together. So they got a boy. That’s me.
Dad worked hard and provided. Mom stayed home, raised me and took care of all of the things that needed taking care of. I was a Mama’s Boy. She taught me most things about life. She talked to me. She took me everywhere. And I don’t really recall every bemoaning the errands we’d go on. Dad did well as a salesman in the food brokerage industry so, while modest, we didn’t really do without. So I remember running a lot of errands and going shopping with mom. We didn’t go on sprees, but I remember being on the go quite a lot.
After we’d moved out to Cat Spring a lot of our errand running meant we were on the road. Houston had been our home, so we’d go into Houston a lot. Or Katy. Eventually we’d stay a little more local and go into Brenham. Now that I think about it, I think a lot of times our errands were my mom just wanting to get out of the house. There’s only so much “homemaking” a wife and mom can or wants to do.
I remember so many hours in the car over the years with my mom. Just going places. And we’d talk. She’d talk mostly. I don’t remember what all we’d talk about. And I sure don’t remember what I would’ve said. I remember mom talking. I guess I was an okay conversationalist, otherwise my mom wouldn’t’ve just been talking into a void.
We’d go to Memorial City Mall in Houston. We’d go to Wal-Mart, Kmart, Best, department stores, the nursery. Mom has always had a green thumb. I never really liked going to nurseries but now, looking back on it, I have fond memories. I’d probably wander off amongst the plants while mom looked for whatever it is she wanted. And we’d always go somewhere to eat lunch. We never really went to a sit down kind of places. Usually it was fast food. It was the 1980’s.
I have an affinity for Chick-Fil-A because of those outings with mom. There was a Chick-Fil-A in the food court of Memorial City Mall. That was the mall that was closest to our house when we lived in Houston, and the mall that was closest to us when we moved to Cat Spring an hour away. Again, it was the 80’s (and early 90’s) and people often went to the mall. We always when to Chick-Fil-A when we went to the mall. We both liked it. Me probably more than mom. We’d sit in the food court and people watch, eat fried chicken sandwiches and waffle fries and talk.
We burned up I-10 driving back and forth to Houston running our errands and talking. I remember driving to Brenham with mom too. Driving around in Austin and Washington county was nice because it was rural. I remember the seasons. Especially spring. The country is so green in the spring. The Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes covered the roadsides and pastures.
I got a little older and started establishing my own identity, so I started getting into music. So we would often listen to whatever music I was getting into on the radio during our drives and errand running.
I have so many memories of doing little bits of nothing with my mom. Too many to document here. I like having them nestled in my long-term memory. I think they get fainter and fainter as I get older, but they’re there. And I treasure them. Mom and I always had a close bond. I’m sure there were some heavy conversations on the roads. Some life lessons were taught.
Since it was mom’s 80th birthday this past weekend, we went to visit her. She sold the ranch in Cat Spring two years ago and moved into a little house in Sealy. Elise had to work on Saturday, so Maly, Mara and I packed up after work and drove to mom’s on Friday.
Honestly we didn’t have much planned for an 80th birthday. I kind of thought we’d take mom to a nice lunch or dinner on Sunday after Elise drove up. I couldn’t think of some kind of present to get her because mom doesn’t really need anything and she, like me, isn’t really a fan of “stuff” for the sake of stuff. It just makes for mental inventory.
Mom had made sausage, beans and rice for dinner on Friday night when the girls and I got there. We had dinner together in her little kitchen. After dinner I put myself on kitchen duty. I rinsed the plates and started putting dishes in her dishwasher. Mom stopped me and told me that the dishwasher didn’t work.
So I told mom I’d buy her a dishwasher for her birthday if she wanted it. She liked that idea so we decided we’d go to Katy the next day and pick out a dishwasher for her. We’d burn up I-10 like we did in the old days.
Katy and Houston and practically indistinguishable nowadays. And that sprawl is creeping out into Brookshire and Sealy in recent years. Getting onto I-10 from Sealy is a complicated mess of construction. We had to detour west for a few miles on I-10 in order to go east into Katy. I told mom and the kids that this outing was going to be an adventure.
We made it to Lowe’s on Fry Road to learn that they don’t carry much appliance inventory so we couldn’t just pick out a dishwasher and load it up into the back of the truck. The Lowe’s employee told me that he was showing they had a couple models of the dishwasher mom had picked out in Cinco Ranch. When he told me that, I was coming to the idea that procuring a dishwasher was going to become an all day affair.
We decided to drive across the street to Home Depot. There were learned that they don’t carry appliance inventory at all. We’d have to order what we wanted and have it delivered. I wanted to buy a dishwasher that day and install it for my mom that afternoon.
I reminded the ladies that today was an adventure. It didn’t help that it’s late June in Texas, so it was hot outside. And mom now had a bit of a bad knee, so doing a lot of walking isn’t her favorite thing to do. We were getting a bit hungry at that point, so before the pangs set in, I decided we’d drive down the road and get barbecue and Rudy’s. My treat.
Lunch was good and we were all well-fed. Our adventure couldn’t be over just yet, so we decided to make the trek to the Lowe’s in Cinco Ranch to see if they had dishwashers in stock. Thankfully they did, so that made for short work in our dishwasher-seeking adventure. Maly and I loaded up the dishwasher into the back of mom’s truck and it was time to head home. Instead of heading north to get on I-10 and deal with the backed up traffic from Brookshire to Sealy, we stayed south and took FM 1093 west all the way to 36.
That was a nice drive. There wasn’t frustration from having to drive all over Katy or Houston in search of a dishwasher. Having to stop at three stores wasn’t that bad. And we’d only been out for 3 hours, and that included lunch, so it was the right amount of time to be out on this errand. The girls were fine and behaved, so it was just a nice afternoon. And the drive through Cinco Ranch, Fulshear, and Wallis was nice. It was kind of rural. It was like a mix of those days when mom and I would drive to Houston and Brenham. I don’t know how to describe it. It was just nice. It reminded me of those hours in the car, just mom and me. But this time I had my mom’s granddaughter’s with us.
It took me most of the evening to get the old dishwasher out and the new one in. Elise drove in to mom’s house on Sunday afternoon and we had an early dinner for mom’s birthday. We didn’t do the fancy lunch or dinner outing. In fact, mom made dinner for us on her own birthday. She made a sirloin roast with potatoes and carrots. Elise brought a rich chocolate birthday cake that we ate after dinner.
Six o’clock rolled around and I needed to head back to Austin so I could be at work on Monday morning. The girls stayed back to spend the rest of mom’s birthday and the next day with her. I really wish I didn’t have to come home. I guess I didn’t have to, but I didn’t want to have to wake up extra early and drive the two hours home in the morning. Then I’d have to wake everybody up.
The drive home was nice. It had rained quite a bit between Sealy and Austin during the day, so there were a lot of clouds in the sky. The rain had dried up, but things had cooled off a bit. And the clouds were covering most of the sun in the west, so I wasn’t blinded the whole way home. And the clouds were those nice purple blue clouds that seemed like they had some rain and lightning stored inside of them. Not those Texas summer big cotton ball clouds that hang out high in the sky and don’t move very fast.
The landscape was green because of the unusual amount of rain we’ve had so far this summer. And the sun behind the clouds just kind of painted a nice scene in the landscape high above. It was a pretty drive home. It was hard to leave mom’s. And once I got on the road I got a bit depressed if I’m being honest. I thought about all of those memories mentioned above, and a lot more.
I thought a lot about how the past 45 years have just kind of slipped by. I’ve built up a lot of memories over those years and when I was driving those 120 miles home it seemed like those memories were endless. I’m thankful for those memories and there’s a great level of comfort in having them.
It’s just sad to think that the sources of those memories won’t always be here.
I wish I would’ve thought to take a photo of mom, the girls and me eating lunch at Rudy’s or shopping for dishwashers or combing through the garden section of Lowe’s in search of a plumbago. I guess I wasn’t supposed to. Perhaps this past Saturday was part of a new legacy of memories. Maybe my children will look back on that day with fond memories. And maybe they won’t. But it was a nice day for me.
The girls were officially done with school on Thursday. On Friday we packed up after lunch and headed north up 35 to Plano for the Texas Draw lacrosse tournament. We pulled into our hotel around 5 p.m., checked in, unpacked, and then headed down to Ace’s Sports Hangar for a happy hour with Michelle, Stacey, Mike, Molly and our respective daughters. After a couple hours of hanging out and chatting we walked over to the Saltgrass Steakhouse for an hour-long wait for a table for dinner.
It wound up being a late dinner and a late night. I think we went to bed after midnight, and the alarm at 6:30 on Saturday morning came early. Due to a lot of rain that we’ve been getting lately, the tournament was delayed 2 hours. An hour into that delay we learned that our first game would be delayed 5 hours. So we just hung out in our room and them drove to meet the rest of the team for lunch at Jimmy John’s at 11:30.
After lunch it was time to head to the field so the girls could warm up. The parents found a shady spot and watched a couple teams play. Then it was time for the Outlaws’ first game against San Antonio Forged. The girls took control early on for a final score of 6-4. In the second half Forged scored most of their points, but the Outlaws started getting serious again and hung on to their lead for the win. This was the first actual game (non-scrimmage) win for Maly!
We didn’t fare as well in the second game against Houston GRIT with a final score of 10-2. But the girls had fun and built a really cool bond over the weekend, on top of the bond they’d created since playing together at the beginning of May.
Since there was a 5 hour delay in play, we weren’t done with our second game until almost 6 p.m. And that’s about when the rain came. We left the fields and went to Kroger for various sundries, then back to the hotel to hang out. The girls took off giggling to go hang out in each others’ rooms. Parents freshened up and some went to hang out in the lobby. Everyone kind of did their own thing for dinner. Finally Elise, Molly and I decided to order tacos from Taco Ocho. I took Mara out to the pool so she could swim for a whole 90 seconds before the lightning and thunder started rolling in. And then the rain started pouring down.
After another late night, we went to bed to get ready for another day of lacrosse tournaments. We woke up early on Sunday only to find out that the tournament had been canceled due to the rain and wet field conditions.
With the one win and one loss, we ranked 3rd in our division of 5.
So we took it easy Sunday morning. We went downstairs for a late breakfast. Then we packed up, said our goodbyes and started the long trek back to Austin. But not before driving across the street to Nebraska Furniture Mart to shop living room furniture. We weren’t hell bent on getting new furniture, but decided to go shopping because, well, we don’t have a NFM in Austin.
We didn’t find anything that we had to have, and it was getting late, so we got on the road and started heading back home.
The girls only got to play half their scheduled games, but they still had a really good time. I think the one victory helped, and I think just getting to hang out with each other was a bonus. Elise and I also had a great time hanging out with Michelle, Molly, Mike and Stacey. I’m really glad Maly has found a passion for lacrosse.
For some reason this morning I decided to look up the house that I grew up in on Zillow, just to see what it would cost to own my childhood home.
We moved from our house in Houston to Cat Spring in 1988. I have a lot of fond memories from growing up in this house. We were good friends with all of our neighbors. We lived half a mile from the elementary school. When I was in 4th and 5th grade, I’d ride my bike to and from school while listening to Genesis on my Sony Walkman.
I was brought home from the hospital to this house. I think I was in the 4th grade when dad would pay me $10 to mow the yard. Around that same age, I challenged my dad to a foot race on the sidewalk in front of our house. I was cocky and I thought my dad was an old man. We took off and he let me have the lead for a dozen yards and then he hauled off and smoked me. That’s when I knew my dad was invincible.
When we lived in this house, my parents made it a home and it was always in excellent condition and clean. Unfortunately it looks like owners since us haven’t loved and taken care of the house like we did.
I’d really like to make the trek to Houston to see if my old house even exists anymore. From what I’ve read, Hurricane Harvey decimated Bear Creek in 2017.
If the house isn’t there anymore, I’m sure I’d be heartbroken. But if I don’t go and at least try to see it at some point, I think I’d be equally heartbroken. I’d like to take my children to see where their dad grew up. I think that’s an important part of their history. Maybe I’ll play Genesis’s Invisible Touch album for them on the way there.
This past weekend we went camping with our friends the Arriagas. Elise and Alma had signed up for the Trail Racing Over Texas Wildflower Trail Run half marathon which was supposed to happen Mother’s Day weekend in 2020 but COVID happened, so the race was deferred. They still let folks do a virtual race, so Elise and I hiked 14+ miles on the last day that they allowed virtual submissions. That was on July 31st of last year.
This year as COVID restrictions have started lowering, the girls decided we’d go camping and they’d run the half marathon. So we packed up this past Friday and headed out to Bastrop State Park for a weekend of camping, hanging out with our good friends and so the girls could participate in the race.
We had a great time cooking hot dogs and fajitas on the campfire, playing cornhole, and watching the kids play and swim in the lake. We rented a kayak for Maly and Julia and they happened upon a stranded family of four in the lake, so the two girls towed them back to safety.
At 7:30 on Sunday morning, Elise and Alma got up and set out on the half marathon. They beat their goal of a sub-4 half marathon and came in right at 3:59 despite the heat and humidity. I got to see them off, but unfortunately had to miss their finish as I had to get Maly back to Austin for lacrosse practice. After dropping Maly off at the house, I headed back to Bastrop in time for lunch and to start packing up in the heat.
We had a really good time camping despite everyone sleeping like crap. But, that’s to be expected when camping. As we were leaving on Sunday afternoon, Mara starting crying in the back seat. At first we thought she’d gotten hurt or stung by a bee. She told us she was really sad that our camping trip was ending.
That’s our child, going for the 8-meter penalty shot to tie the game. Saint Andrew’s is up, 8 to 7.
Maly is one of the two freshman playing on the girls varsity lacrosse team. Coach had her playing attack in tonight’s game. Usually she plays out of the way and only helps to move the ball. Tonight she got the ball and saw a clearing to the goal, so she took it. As she went to shoot, she got checked and drew the penalty.
Her first 8-meter was called back because Saint Andrew’s got off the line too soon. This was her second attempt. The game is 8-7 and there are only 8 seconds left in the game. The last game the varsity team played was this past Tuesday. The girls lost 18-1. The game before that was 19-5. I don’t remember the two games before that, but the margins were similar. This was this season’s closest game.
She didn’t get it. But it doesn’t matter. She had a shot. And she took it. And it was a good shot.
In another installment of Josh living in the past…
A year ago today we’d recently returned from our Spring Break trip to Arizona and Utah. We came home to a pandemic and the US was on lockdown. I went on a 13 mile run today and thought about a few things that happened around this time a year ago a reflected on a couple things and people that I’m thankful for:
Our friend Shelley who picked us up from the airport. Times were weird, so she and her husband, Barry, drove two cars to the airport to pick us up. Shelley drove our car and had it ready for us at passenger pickup so we could maintain “social distancing.” They’d also picked up some basics for us so we’d have food to eat despite the grocery stores being ransacked. I remember there were eggs. There were other things in our care package, but for some reason, I remember the eggs. She and Barry saved us from having to rush to the grocery store that evening to scrounge for food. She’d also been in touch with us while we were still out of town to keep us abreast of the state of the city and what to expect when we got home to the “new normal.”
My friend Frank brought us a “breakfast taco” care package and left it on the doorstep that Sunday morning. He knew we’d been out of town and had no groceries. We didn’t ask him to do that. He just did it. It’s so nice to know that people care and are thinking of you.
The girls haven’t been back to school for an entire year. We left the Wednesday before spring break 2020 started at they haven’t set foot in a school since then. In that year, Mara has struggled a bit. She’s in 3rd grade and needs a bit more direction, specifically from a teacher. I think remote learning is too difficult for most 8-year-olds. So, a year ago we left for Spring Break, came home to a pandemic and the children haven’t been to school since. A year later, Spring Break is coming to an end, and Elise and I decided we’re sending Mara back to in-person school tomorrow. Here’s to new beginnings. To celebrate, we ordered her a patriotic pair of Converse that she excitedly picked out.
At this exact moment, one year ago today I was running along the Page Rim Trail in the Antelope Canyon 50-mile ultra trail race. The hardest parts of the race were behind me and I was playing the game of mindfulness and doing the mental math on how much further I had to go to get to the finish line. I remember just taking in the scenery and knowing that I just had to make it to the next aid station. Aid stations provide motivation and allow you to create little milestones to just keep going.
Running 50 miles is damn hard. Running 50 miles is also damn fun. It’s a test of one’s grit. It’s a grueling exercise in testing your physical and mental fortitude. More so the mental fortitude part. One of my favorite quotes on running is: “Running is 90% mental. The other 10% is mental.”
A year ago I was in pretty amazing shape – not in the best shape of my running life – but I was in good shape. In the second half of 2019 I was training like crazy to run a sub-3-hour marathon at the Houston Marathon in January. Once that goal was accomplished, I knew I needed to start training for Antelope Canyon, so I jumped back into marathon training and then ran the Austin Marathon less than a month later. And then I had less than a month to get ready for my first 50-miler, so I just kept tacking on 10- and 20-miler training runs and I’d train with no abandon.
Antelope Canyon on March 14th 2020 was one of the best days of my life. I’d put in so much work in my training and that work paid off. And after the race, the girls and I had an amazing Spring Break in northern Arizona and southern Utah exploring the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion. The WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic just 3 days before, so business were shutting down and people were told to shelter in place. The national parks were “open,” but there were no services or regular park rangers on duty, so we kind of had the parks to ourselves. It was an amazing Spring Break.
But Spring Break and our vacation had to come to an end. So we flew back to Austin and were forced to dive headfirst into the new pandemic normal. I had no running or race plans after Antelope Canyon as I figured I’d find something to put on the calendar after I took a much-needed break. I still kept running for the fun of it, but hadn’t any goals. I guess my next adventure would’ve been running every street in our neighborhood.
After that, nothing. My sub-3 marathon in Houston qualified me to run the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon, so my thought was that I would start training for those races in 2021, but COVID kind of messed those up. There still might be a 125th running of Boston in October if we can get the coronavirus under control.
In “celebration” of running my first 50-miler a year ago today, this morning I ran the Far West Summit 10k in the northwest hills of Austin. I lost count of how many times I had to stop, put my hands on my knees and huff and puff like a guy who endeavoring in running his first 10k.
I guess that’s part of the allure of running. Here’s to new beginnings.
That pandemic day has arrived. I’m a fairly regimented guy. I wake up, brush my teeth, make coffee and read the news. Then I go to the bathroom where I wash my hands really well before putting in my contact lenses. This morning as I was lathering my hands above the bathroom sink I took keen notice of myself in the mirror. You know how your pectorals and biceps naturally flex when you put your palms together in front of your abdomen? That’s what I saw this morning as I was washing my hands. The sleeves on my shirt were tight because my biceps are starting to get – dare I say – ripped. I’d reached that moment when I could finally see the results of all of my working out.
And then I remembered that I haven’t been working out at all. I also remembered packing chocolate ice cream to the brim of a 20 oz. souvenir Rudy’s Barbecue cup last night. My shirt is tight because of arm fat.
I woke up yesterday feeling like crap. Everything was crap. The grass is yellow and lying flat. The pittosporums are dying. The backyard is bare because we had to remove the wax myrtle. The garage is a wreck because of the dirty snow melt from last week. My head hurt. My throat hurt. Do I have Covid?
It’s Monday and there’s no school. There’s no school on Tuesday, either. Winter Storm Uri had devastated the US. The girls did have school last Monday because of President’s Day. And then the storm hit. Texas was shut down the entire week. Millions lost power and water. Some are still without water.
After losing my job on February 4th, my plan was to take that following week off and do nothing or do whatever bewildered me. I did more of the former. I would start my networking and job search on February 15th. Well, our Winter storm hit, priorities shifted and last week kind of became a wash.
Since many are still without power and internet and others are having to deal with busted pipes and home repairs, schools aren’t opening back up until February 24th. I guess I’m just keeping the same schedule as the schools. And I guess, in a way, I’m capitalizing on the opportunity to spend time with the family.
I think I might’ve wanted some downtime from the winter chaos of last week as well.
I woke up and went about my usual morning business of brushing my teeth, making coffee, reading a couple newsletters, checking in with some friends, and then I plopped down on the couch with the goal to finish reading “How Starbucks Saved My Life.”
I went for a run with a couple friends of mine back on Saturday, February 6th. This was two days after being laid off. A group of us usually go for a 5 mile run on Saturday mornings. We’ll meet at the neighborhood community center at 7 or 8 a.m. and talk about everything and nothing for an hour as we run. On this particular Saturday it was Ana, Chad and I that went for a run. It was kind of cold and gray that morning. I figured going for a run with friends is exactly what I needed.
I pulled into the parking lot first. Our community center has one of those little neighborhood libraries – the kind that looks like a big birdhouse. Take a book. Leave a book. Since it was chilly outside, I walked over to the library to check its inventory and keep my mind from the cold. For whatever reason, “How Starbucks Saved My Life” jumped out at me, so I grabbed it, read the back and decided it was worth a go.
The book is about Michael, a former advertising executive who had it all according to American standards. The pedigree. A high-ranking job. Big salary. Successful family with lots of kids. One day he gets laid off. He didn’t do anything wrong. He was just aged and salaried out. The agency got younger and they laid him off. He spent the next 10 years as a consultant, slowly losing more and more business. He somewhat spiraled. I’m sure fueled by depression, anxiety, low sense of self-worth. He cheated on his wife and his girlfriend became pregnant. That’s what wound up destroying Michael’s family life.
Michael and his wife got divorced. He left her and the kids with the house. She had family money, so she and the kids would be okay financially. He moved out and into a small apartment. He and his girlfriend grew apart. This was mostly because the girlfriend soon realized that the father of her only son wasn’t a bigwig vice president at an agency in New York. He was a laid-off consultant trying to make ends meet. So he does his best to be a father for his new son. He tries his best to maintain a relationship with his four adult children. And he lands a job at a Starbucks store by happenchance.
If you can curb the notion that this book might just be a 260 page ad for Starbucks, it’s actually a nice story. It’s not overly deep. You can get mad at and then root for the protagonist. The moral is find fulfillment in how you spend your days. Do things you enjoy. Be of service. Be empathetic. Try your hardest. You know, all that kind of stuff.
Like I’d set out to do yesterday morning, I finished the book in the early afternoon. It was a good read at the right time.
I think finishing a book can be an accomplishment in and of itself, however, I didn’t feel like I’d done anything productive. So I reached out to our accountant to let him know that we had all of our tax documents and were ready to get to work. He sent me a reply email and told me to upload all of the documents to the usual spot. So, I uploaded everything per his request. I forewarned him that we’d sold a lot of stocks back in September and that he’s probably going to have a lot of questions for me. That didn’t seem to phase him. And maybe, hopefully, I’m wrong. The last time we sold stocks we didn’t have a CPA. We used Jackson Hewitt to help us with our taxes and I remember it being a huge pain in the butt having to drum up the documentation on when and for how much a certain share was acquired.
So now I’d checked the box to “Take care of taxes.” I’d been productive.
Maly had been begging Elise to take her to Home Depot all day. She wanted plants for her room. Elise finally gave in. They were gone for a couple hours. When they returned, Maly had procured a half dozen plants, pots, chains, and mounting hooks. She came into the office and said, “Dad, can you help me with a project?”
She’d bought some ivy and shaded ground cover plants that she wanted to hang in her room from the ceiling in two pots. She needed help drilling holes in the sides of the plastic pots, cutting the chains, and attaching the chains to the pots. We setup shop at the top of the driveway and went to work. It wound up being a gorgeous day. It was a little hot in the afternoon, and a 70+ degree difference in temperature from just a few days prior.
I showed her how to measure the circumference of the pots so she could figure out where the three holes needed to be drilled in each pot. After she was done measuring and started drilling, I sort of took a mental pause and snapshot at that moment. I slowed down. I stopped and took it in. I was very present. I realized that at that moment, that was the best moment of my day. Just her and me. She wanted something done. She needed help and I was the only qualified person to help.
We had maybe an hour together on the driveway, working on pots to be hanged from her ceiling. I told her about the book I’d finished earlier that afternoon and asked her what she’d think if I worked at a Starbucks. Like Michael in the book, she thought I meant working for corporate. I said “no.”
“You mean… like a… barista?”
She just gave me a look. It was a look of not being able to fathom the notion of her dad being a uniformed barista at a coffee chain.
I don’t know what she expects of her father as it relates to a livelihood. I’ve been unemployed and unhappily employed many times in my adult life. I blame myself for that. I’ve never had internal or external guidance for what I should do for money in exchange for my time. I want more for my child. I’ve always told her to find something she enjoys. Find something to be passionate about. And don’t get a job and just make money. Find a way in life to create money. I feel that if you can create money, you don’t really need a lot of it. Just enough for you to get by and keep happy.
The first Janicek.com post was on February 10, 2002. I actually bought Janicek.com on October 9, 2001. I decided I wanted a website where I could journal about Elise’s and my life together as a newly-married couple. I’d seen other online journals and thought that was a great idea. I didn’t know these journals were called “blogs,” and that there was software that made blogging easy, organized, and searchable. Given that I was a web designer at the time, I built Janicek.com from scratch by using only HTML and CSS. My “blog” was totally static and my index.html was manually downloaded and uploaded anytime I wanted to update the website with a new story. And I’m pretty sure I was doing all of this in Microsoft FrontPage at the time.
The original Janicek.com had some pretty good stories, too. I remember I’d written all about our wedding and our honeymoon. And I’m pretty sure I wrote about losing my job as a web designer. That was my first job out of college and I was happy and excited to be a working man, working in tech. I worked for a start-up dot-com in Austin Texas. And the dot-com bubble burst.
Newly married and out of a job in the tech space with the rest of the techies across the country.
At some point I discovered MoveableType and installed it on my server. Then Janicek.com became a true blog. For the life of me I could never find the old static HTML version of Janicek.com that lived from October 2001 to February 2002. It was on a hard drive somewhere and I guess it just got lost somewhere in the shuffle of hard drives throughout the years. And I have no idea why I wouldn’t have copies those old static stories and pasted them into the new Janicek.com that was running MoveableType. Maybe those stories still live somewhere, buried in a folder on a hard drive that’s shoved in a drawer in the home office. Perhaps I just haven’t looked hard enough.
What’s funny is that nineteen years and a day ago, the first post on Janicek.com was about searching for a job, saving money and moving out of Austin. I’d posted about having a second interview coming up with Scott & White and we were entertaining the idea of moving from Austin to Temple.
I don’t have any second interviews lined up but will be looking for a job again soon. History repeats itself.
I lost my job today. Five of our little team of 8 were laid off. I had a meeting put on my calendar this morning by our counsel and head of business development. My first thought was, “great, I’m getting fired.” But then I calmed down and thought, “No, Mark and I haven’t chatted in a long time. He recently took on his new role, so he’s getting the lay of the land. He’s going to see where he can put me to make me most effective.”
No, he fired me. The Google meeting started. Mark was there along with two folks from HR. My heart sank. But this isn’t my first rodeo. And thankfully I’ve been blessed with a mindset that doesn’t let me dwell. As I was being told that “the company is pivoting. We’re no longer going to be selling or supporting digital media. Your position is being eliminated, effective immediately” I was already in “acceptance” and “moving on” mode.
What’s interesting is that I’d decided to pay off our house back in September to safeguard against something just like this. I’m so damn glad I did that. And I thinks that’s largely why I was able to stay calm and be in that acceptance mode while I was being told I was getting canned.
It’s still a tough pill to swallow. I’m still a bit in shock and consciously allowing my subconscious to process things right now. I’d just observed my 7-year anniversary with the company nine days ago. Seven years is the longest that I’ve been with an employer. And it was a pretty damn good job. My job very much aligned with my skill sets and my lifestyle.
I learned very early on in my professional career (as in my very first job out of college) that when someone else is signing your paycheck, you’re either an asset or a liability. And regardless of which one you are, you’re just a number.
So, I think I’m going to use this space to document the adventures and tribulations of being a 45-year-old old Jack of some trades on the job hunt in Austin, TX during a pandemic when unemployment is at a record high. This is going to be a hoot!