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 than 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.”

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”

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”

Mike Alcorn: A Helluva Guy

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There’s something about a fraternal bond that is indescribable. It’s like a secret sauce that forever bands brothers together. And I’m not talking “brothers” in the genetic sense. It’s more a sense of kindred, a fundamental commonality that goes back, way back. It goes so far back our conscious mind can’t explain, can’t predict it.

But we know without a doubt when it’s there.

Like many, I knew Mike Alcorn. For certain not as well as others, but I knew him as a fellow-traveler, like most parents with kids the same age know each other.

Perhaps a little more given our shared entrepreneurial experience.

I can’t remember when I first met Mike, but I’m almost certain it was well before we knew Continue Reading “Mike Alcorn: A Helluva Guy”

Should Yale (and Other Elite Colleges) Require Students Take a Kobayashi Maru Test?

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When it comes to “The Game,” precedent has no say. The annual Yale-Harvard ritual evokes a rivalry that transcends the ages, as well as the win-loss record of the season’s previous games. So it was in 1979 when the heavily favored undefeated Yale Bulldogs fell to the Harvard Crimson in the season’s ultimate game by the score of 22-7.

Even the final score means nothing. In 1968, when Harvard scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds to earn a tie, the Harvard Crimson headline read: “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.”

This year, the 136th edition of The Game was much anticipated. ESPN had it moved up an hour to a noon start since the Yale Bowl has no lights. Yale, with a record of 8-1, scoring an average of 37.4 points-per-game and fighting for the Ivy League title, was the odds-on favorite to defeat Harvard, losers of four straight. Was anyone surprised, then, that the first half ended with Harvard beating the Bulldogs by a solid 15-3 margin?

The halftime show changed everything.Continue Reading “Should Yale (and Other Elite Colleges) Require Students Take a Kobayashi Maru Test?”

A Memory of Frank Ricci

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You probably never heard of Frank Ricci.

You probably never met Frank Ricci.

But I have and I did. He is among the thousand points of light that have illuminated my life. This is my salute to him. As you read this, I’m confident you may find some familiar tidbits that you didn’t expect to be there. I promise you, before you come to the end of this column, you’ll discover why.

Francesco “Frank” Ricci was born in the mountains south of Rome, Italy on February 10, 1935. He immigrated to America in 1959 after marrying his wife Teresa. Teresa DeAngelis grew up on Abbott Parkway in Blasdell, New York. I grew up on Abbott Parkway, only many years later.

I remember much about growing up on Abbott Parkway. On the other hand, I don’t Continue Reading “A Memory of Frank Ricci”