Just Get Past The Peak

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There’s a bridge between here and Toronto. It’s in St. Catherine’s. It’s not high, but it’s high enough.

As you cross the Lewiston Bridge, the 190 turns into Route 405 in Ontario. The 405 quickly merges into the QEW and from there its straight on through to Toronto.

By way of this “high enough” bridge.

It’s called the “Garden City Skyway” and it soars 130 feet above the Welland Canal at its greatest height. Not too high. But high enough.

Nearly a mile long, when approaching from the east (which is what you do when you’re travelling to Toronto) before it crosses the canal, it ascends to a gentle curve. But not gentle enough.

To compound matters, the Canadians built the Garden City Skyway as an open road. There is no high structural steel to cocoon you comfortably within its path.

This, combined with it being as tall as a 13-story building and a curve that hides your ultimate destination leaves you with a feeling of flying unbound, high above the endless horizon of Lake Ontario.

And that’s just enough to give one smitten with a not-so-mild case of acrophobia sweaty palms.

I happen to be that one.

We all have a fear of falling. It’s natural and it’s meant to protect us. Acrophobia – the fear of heights – is an irrational behavior that increases with age. There are good reasons for this, but those aren’t important here. What’s important is the very real feeling induced by this fear.

It’s a feeling that gives you a sense that some strange force compels you to the edge of the precipice. For example, the low walls of the Garden City Skyway beckon you to turn the wheel and direct your car over them. The not-so-gentle curve urges you to go straight – straight to your doom.

It’s an evil energy. An unnatural power. A dark force that wants to eat your very soul.

And you can do nothing about it.

Remember those pre-school nightmares when you’re being chased by a gorilla and your legs can’t run. You’re far away enough to escape, if only you can run. But you can’t. So you wake up in a fright.

And notice your palms are sweaty.

It’s the same way with acrophobia.

Here’s what it feels like in real time as I approach the Garden City Skyway.

I first notice the road ahead. I can see it rising into the airy nothingness. The curve ahead conceals what lies beyond.

I know what’s coming. I tense up. The inevitable nears.

The car begins to lift. The vehicle remains on the road, but the road itself is climbing.

I grip the wheel tighter, determined to fight against that surreal urge that draws me over the edge.

That’s when I notice my palms getting sweaty. Just at the worst time. I can’t afford to let the wheel slip from my grasp.

I sense my heart beginning to pound as I head towards the curve to nowhere. I’m too focused on what’s immediately straight ahead.

I refuse to tilt my head just to see what’s beyond the curve.

I’m heading into the unknown.

My heart races more. It seems the car is going too slow. Like those immobile legs in that childhood nightmare. Except I’m not running from the ape. I’m driving towards it.

But at least I can retain control. Still, I have no idea what will happen next.

Around me my peripheral vision sees nothing but air. I’m coasting at an exposed altitude with no guy wires, no safety net. One slip and I’m Karl Wallenda.

Now my mind decides to go into hyperdrive. I’m continually observing, analyzing, deciding – rinse, lather, repeat, over and over again. What do I do if the car starts veering? What if the bridge collapses? Should I slow down for better control? Should I speed up to get it over faster?

My brow feels sweaty now. Anxiety. High Anxiety. Literally.

In this deepest dread, I tell myself I can survive.

That’s the moment I remember. I remember being in this place before. There is hope.

All I need to do is get to the peak.

With laser-like concentration, my vision narrows further to the center of the road. Don’t go over the edge. Don’t look down. Eyes straight ahead. Get to the peak. Survive to the peak.

I sense my chassis rolling more deliberately towards the apex of the bridge.

Almost there…

Closer…

Closer…

I veer to the left on that not so gentle curve.

Then I see it.

Finally…

The crest…

Just ahead…

I purposely press the pedal to accelerate. Ever so little. Just to get there faster.

And then I’m there.

On top of the world. Literally. The highest point of the Garden City Skyway. Higher than the tallest freighter. The acme.

And then I’m over it and past it.

Elation.

It’s all downhill from here. I coast. I relax my formally focused eyes.

I see the world around me. The world below. It’s beautiful. It’s my world. And I’m returning to it in one piece.

I didn’t merely survive the ordeal. I conquered it.

And that feeling makes me more alive that I’ve ever felt before.

You know the expression “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”? This is an experience made precisely for that sentiment.

I am stronger. And will remain stronger.

And the next time I must cross a bridge into the unknown, I’ll keep this one thing in mind:

“Just get past the peak.”

Never Say Never

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One day, a little boy came home from his first day of school. He was very excited. He couldn’t stop talking about his day. “Teacher says I can do anything I want!” he exclaimed.

His grandfather, listening quietly, became interested, leaned forward and asked “What do you want to do?”

The talkative boy suddenly became quiet and his eyes lit up as he looked outside the kitchen window. Beyond the horizon stood a tall mountain that soared into the clouds. “You see that?” said the boy pointing at the mountain, “I want to climb to the top of that mountain.”

His grandfather leaned back in his chair and laughed knowledgably. “Ha!” he chuckled, “it’s impossible to climb that mountain, it’s too high up!”

A few years later the same boy was celebrating his fifth-grade graduation. All his family had come to his house to commemorate the event. The boy was very excited. “The principal said we could do anything we want to in our life!” he exclaimed.

His father smiled and asked, “What do you want to do?”

The boy’s eyes bugged out and he looked out the kitchen window and pointed, “I want to climb to the top of that mountain.”

The boy’s father laughed and said, “It’s impossible to climb to the top of that mountain, the air’s too thin!”

Still, a few years later the same boy had just graduated from high school. At his graduation party, held in his backyard, he was very excited and looked forward to beginning his life. “The graduation speaker said we could accomplish anything!” he exclaimed.

His mother, pleasantly proud of her son, asked, “What do you want to do?”

The boys’ eyes grew wide and he turned towards the west and pointed, “I want to climb to the top of that mountain!” he exclaimed.

His mother’s smile turned to a frown, “That’s impossible, I hear it has a sheer rock face!”

Yet another four years later, the boy – now a young man and just graduated from college – rejoiced aloud at the family party in his honor. “My professor said I could do anything I wanted,” he exclaimed.

His skeptical grandmother asked, “What do you want to do?”

The graduate, pointing to the horizon, answered, “I want to climb to the top of that mountain!”

“Ha!” the grandmother laughed scornfully, “That’s impossible! You don’t have a job yet, do you?”

And so the years passed. The boy who had become a young man did get a job. Then he found a wife and had his own family. He never did climb to the top of the mountain…

One day, his wife called him at work very worried. “Junior’s been gone for hours! I don’t know where he is!” The man rushed home and arrived just as Junior came through the door.

“Where have you been?” scolded the father.

Junior pointed out the window and said, “nowhere, really. I just wanted to climb to the top of that mountain.”

“What?!” exclaimed the angry dad, “That’s impossible!”

“Really?” asked the confused boy. “Well you should have told me that before I did it?”

“You what?” seethed the older man, “Junior,” his anger reached a crescendo, “so help me the next time you do something a fool-hardy as that…”

The old man stopped suddenly upon hearing his own words, released his anger and calmly added, “…make sure to take me with you.”

The only way to accomplish the impossible is to not know it can’t be done.

No mountain is too high, no road is too rough, and no disease is incurable.

A Life of Flabby Loneliness

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It was a cold February winter more than 35 years ago. I sat uncomfortably close to a diminutive manually assembled Bush Furniture computer hutch. You remember those things. They looked like the mutant offspring of a too short desk and a flimsy book shelf.

Little did I know I was on the leading edge.

Actually, I did know I was on the leading edge… and loving it.

Hunched over what was then a new Wang PC, I had convinced my employer I needed to Continue Reading “A Life of Flabby Loneliness”

Can You Hear the Music of Mathematics?

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Just about anybody who’s anybody can tell you about the math in music. Between time signatures (three-quarter, four-four, cut-time…), fractional notes (whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, thirty-second, sixty-fourth…), and the rest of the nomenclature (octaves, measures, counting…), music is nothing without math.

Even if you take out the technical aspects, the popular discussion is rife with numbers. Literally. I mean, how many of you have bought a 45 of your Number 1 hit that you just heard on the top 50* countdown? (*These being the top 50 songs as measured by the Billboard 100.)

Again, anybody can talk about the math in music, but can they talk about the music in math?Continue Reading “Can You Hear the Music of Mathematics?”

Nobody Knew: When “The Miracle” Touched Greater Western New York

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Everyone knows what happened. Forty years ago this past weekend, when Al Michaels asked the world “Do you believe in Miracles?” a new generation discovered the power of belief. It may surprise you, then, what many people didn’t know…

Yale_Hockey_1980_US_Olympics_300In the months leading up to the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, Team USA hockey coach Herb Brooks scheduled a rigorous sixty-one game exhibition program for his ragtag group. One of those games was played right here in Greater Western New York. The event was held at Buffalo’s Nichols Arena against the Yale hockey team.

Just a couple months earlier, Yale hockey coach Tim Taylor used that game to lure me away from my intention to join the crew team. “Chris, we’ll fly you to Buffalo so you can visit your family,” he said. I took the bait and agreed to serve as manager of the team, (hockey being my second favorite sport and all).

Little did I know that decision fated me to meet history head on.

After all, it was just hockey – at the time an unassuming game played by generally Continue Reading “Nobody Knew: When “The Miracle” Touched Greater Western New York”

Childhood’s End: A Review of Ford vs. Ferrari

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Does this make sense to you?

There was a time when you met your best friend forever in Kindergarten. You went to school together. You graduated together. You were part of each other’s wedding parties. You raised your families together. You went on vacations together. Ultimately, you retired to the same communities together.

At least that’s what we were raised to believe.

My best friend was Angelo. From that day we met as five-year-olds to board that first school bus, we were best friends. Although the only class we ever shared was Kindergarten, from that point on we did everything together. Each day we would walk up Abbott Parkway to the school bus stop together. Every summer day we’d play together.

We talked of our past, present, and future.

We talked about our families, especially my uncle who wanted to design sports cars and his cousin, who frequently laid rubber in the middle of our street with his red hot 1968 Mustang.

We talked about school friends and who liked Ford and who liked Chevy.

We talked about our future wives, how we’d be each other’s best man. Oddly, Angelo Continue Reading “Childhood’s End: A Review of Ford vs. Ferrari

Every “Real Man” Knows How To Tie A Bow Tie

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If you’re a guy of a certain age, (or maybe any age, I don’t know), you can’t say you’ve never fantasized the following: You’re sitting at a plush Baccarat table, debonairly dressed in a crisp tux, cradling a dry martini (shaken, not stirred) in one hand, fondling a couple of heavy chips in the other, while coyly catching the eye of a certain femme fatale.

If there’s one prop that defines this scene, the one thing your mind’s eye focuses on, it’s the bow tie.

You can’t wear a shiny tux without one. The bow tie tells the story – the whole story.

Here’s why.Continue Reading “Every “Real Man” Knows How To Tie A Bow Tie”

First They Came for Our Plastics Bags…

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First they came for our plastic bags, and I did not speak out – because I am but a small voice and could do nothing.

I offer this allusion because Martin Niemöller’s poem remains as profound today as it was when the Lutheran pastor penned his post-war confession in 1946. It’s language of persecution, oppression, and injustice, along with the attendant feelings of shame, regret, and the aura of culpability, ring true today in the Empire State as they once did in the totalitarian morass that immediately succeeded the Weimar Republic.

More on that in a moment. First, a bit of (more) recent history.

By the time Mr. Maguire whispered the word “plastics” into Benjamin Braddock’s attentive, albeit naïve, ear in the 1967 hit movie The Graduate, it had already been two years since Continue Reading “First They Came for Our Plastics Bags…”

Ode to Larry Pierce: Forever Among the Colonnade of Community Pillars

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They are few and far between. Any vibrant community is blessed by no more than a handful. They’re unassuming when you see them. But the moment they speak, you know them.

They are the bedrock of any sustainable community – the foundation upon which everyday folks like us can confidently build our everyday lives. They allow us to assume a comfortable regularity of our surroundings. This makes our lives more pleasant. This makes our lives easier. This, indeed, makes our lives.

Yet, they are much more. Beyond the rock of a common foundation, they represent the solid stone pillars that uplift our community. In doing so, they not only make our lives Continue Reading “Ode to Larry Pierce: Forever Among the Colonnade of Community Pillars”

Why the Hamburger is Who You Are

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I had the most enjoyable of times a couple Thursday evenings ago. Perhaps a bit too enjoyable.

I was honored to have been invited to speak to the Mendon/Honeoye Falls Historical Society about a subject near and dear to my heart: the history of the hamburger. Not only is it the topic of my most recent book, but I have been lucky enough to talk about my research at events across the nation.

You can understand why I may have enjoyed myself just a tad more than I should have during my Historical Society presentation.

Oh, I tried and tried to maintain my sober scholarly best. But, as it wont to occur when I talk about matters I’ve pursued down rabbit holes of research with extreme vigor, passion inevitably gets the better of me. And when that enthusiasm inspires audience interest, it Continue Reading “Why the Hamburger is Who You Are”