Enough Yellowstone

Living in southwest MT, I’ve grown so familiar with its abundant, natural beauty, I take it for granted.  Iconic mountains, roaring rivers, giant wildlife?  Whatever.

Even Yellowstone.  Been there done that.  Unfortunately, it happens to many of us.  I bet a Taj Mahal tour guide sees just a building, or a DC native considers the Lincoln Memorial a hunk of concrete.  Seeing the incredible isn’t so incredible when seen everyday.  Call it natural complacency.  And yes, it even happens to those in God’s country.

My girlfriend had never been to Yellowstone National Park, so last weekend, we put on our tourist hats, packed lunch, and headed in for the day.  She’s from Australia, has lived in Aspen, New York City, and abroad twice.  From an ashram in India to fishing in Maine, this girl has seen it all.

We entered through West Yellowstone, a gateway town with perhaps the largest souvenir selection in the world.  Once inside The Park, it got quiet like church.  The Madison River flowed slowly beside us, but we were slower, lazily delighted on our country drive.

Then everything changed.  We crossed a moseying Bison just off the road.

My well-travelled companion got so excited, you’d have thought Justin Timberlake just asked her to dance.  She bounced under the seatbelt, wielded her camera like a gunslinger and shot about a hundred rounds.  I pulled over and she calmed a little.

“Can I go out there?”  She asked me cautiously.

I leaned close, and did like any other boyfriend would if encouraging his girlfriend to dance with JT.  I touched her wrist.  “Just don’t get too close, ok?”

Once outside, she continued snapping a fury of photos until the big fella started to meander toward her.  This made me nervous.  I’d heard about the guy who saddled his kid on a bison, or the gal who tried petting one.  Those stories ended so badly, they’d become comical folklore for eternity.  No way were we going to make the headlines Local Watches Girlfriend Bucked by Bison.

“Back in the car, Honey.  Fun’s over,” I said.

She got in.

He continued to head directly toward us, nibbling grass along the way until reaching the road where he crossed without looking.  He walked directly to the passenger-side window and stopped suddenly as if he’d bumped his nose.  He was so big, he could have nudged my truck sideways.  His black eyes were the size of golf balls.  He paused, looked at us, perplexed by our presence.  Bison have been on the earth millions of years longer than humans.  You could say this old ungulate had earned his right of way.  Instead, he turned passively, and slowly walked around.

hot basin

The usual sights continued to impress us: Mammoth Hot Springs, the Mud Volcano, even Old Faithful.  More than bison, we saw a playful black bear, a prancing coyote, and two bull elk with thick, fuzzy antlers.  My sweetheart delighted in seeing all of it for the first time, even the placid flow of the mighty Yellowstone River.  The Park felt so alive, even the earth seemed to breathe under our feet.

But the day’s highlight was hiking Wapiti Trail toward the Lower Falls of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon.  Along the way we passed unmarked, bubbling thermal pools, juicy streams, and crystal lakes.   We reached the canyon rim that dropped 400 feet below us with no guardrail.  Even that high up, the waterfall was so loud it muffled our conversation.  The combination of crashing water and deathly heights rattled us with fear and thrill.

elk YNPedit

We looped back over Tom’s Cabin Trail which ended at the Upper Falls parking lot where another giant waterfall amazed an audience.  Our hike ended there, and since we were out of water and still a mile from the car, we hitched a ride back with the first couple who stopped.

A shaggy young man got out of the driver seat, invited us in the back, and was so kind, he rearranged the luggage to make room.  They were from Tennessee, celebrating their honeymoon.  We complimented their site selection which led to a shared praise of Yellowstone National Park.  We agreed, there was so much to see in this place, like several vacations in one.  The park is bigger than Delaware, the Virgin Islands, Los Angeles, and Disney World, combined.  Our ride was short, but we bonded with these young lovers, enamored too, over this massive, magical place.

“How long you been here?” we asked.  Maybe they had a full day too.

“Nine days,” they said and I nearly jumped from my seat.  I thought a single day wasn’t enough, and yet, neither is nine.  I looked at a map that we barely covered and realized a lifetime wouldn’t be enough to experience all of Yellowstone.

It’s easy to grow comfortable in our environments and take for granted familiar sights.  Yellowstone should not be one of them.

Lower Falls

Looking Good with P90X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tony Horton was in our ski town this season, teaching a 3-day version of his viral fitness video, P90X.  I’m told that the popular, make-you-a-model workout program will improve everything from my skiing to my parallel parking.  Talk with the enthusiastic Tony Horton, and he’ll convince you too that everyday you don’t do P90X, you’re getting weaker and dumber.

On his first night at Big Sky Resort, Tony wasn’t his usual fired-up self.  Dressed in denim and down, he was relaxed, making small talk with an interested crowd in the hotel lobby.  This was a man who had athletically influenced millions worldwide, a man who could probably do pushups on his eyelashes.  But on this night, he was like most guys I knew, poised with a ski-bum swagger, unaffected by the gaggle of flirting girls.

My friend Katie was in the crowd and shook his hand to say she was taking the class.  Shorty following the handshake, Mr. Horton, completely unprompted, showed her his impeccable abs.  This led me to one conclusion.  This man was a dork.  Nor was I impressed.  No way I was taking his class.  I didn’t work out to show off, and I wasn’t about to take lessons from a showboat.

I have never been to a formal exercise class, and certainly not the kind that consists of pulsating music and a muscular instructor with a stopwatch.  That’s for girls and vain men.  I’d rather get my exercise skiing, biking, or arm wrestling after a 6-pack.

But I suppose that’s what you do when you’re Tony Horton.  You lift your shirt and market your product.  Maybe that’s why he is successful.  He is a living advertisement of the perfect physique.  Follow his lessons, and you too can look like him.

Surely though, working out means more than looking good.  What about feeling good, being strong, living healthy?  Maybe it’s meant for some, or all of those things.  I would have thought that a professional worker-outer like Tony Horton had a more comprehensive perspective on the topic.  It seemed inappropriate that night to shake his hand, pull him aside, and ask, “Mr Horton, may we discuss superficiality?”  I realized that if I really wanted to know his opinion, I had only one choice.  I would have to take his class.

Maybe this would be a good thing though.  Considering that I’d learn in 3 days what his DVD taught in 90, I felt like he was already improving my efficiency.  So I signed up.

The class was nearly full, mostly with women.  I lined up in the front row like the class nerd.  We started with a light warm-up, jumping up and down, shaking out the fingers, rolling the shoulders.  We jogged in place, reached for the sky, did jumping jacks, twisted the hips and kept hopping like children who had to pee.  I started to sweat, but the workout hadn’t officially begun.

“OK, ready?” he asked, as if someone would actually raise their hand and say no.  Then like a drummer clicking the sticks, he counted down and shouted out instructions.  We dove into circuit training, starting with one-legged Burpees to pushups, then–still on one foot–jumping as high as we could.  We switched legs, repeated, lunged, repeated, ran in place, repeated.

Every exercise was timed, and our muscled maestro spoke incessantly with relentless enthusiasm.

I wasn’t moving fast enough. “Match my feet,” he said to me, then he ran in place with jackrabbit frenzy.  I ran faster until he approved and after he moved to someone else, I slowed again and he kept talking fast.

“For any of you struggling, remember that you are far better off than all those people eating eggs benedict right now.”

“10 more seconds.”

“Blood is flowing, you are improving your sex life, you are making aging easier. Who wants to be in pain when they get older and who wants better sex?”

He referenced Jack Lalanne, the grandfather of fitness who lived until he was 96.  “Guess where the ‘Jumping Jack’ came from?”  And like the original fitness superhero, Tony stressed the importance of diet.  Eat items with one ingredient.  “How many ingredients are in an apple?  One.  Apple.  Eat more of those.”

“OK, time.”

My exhaustion was wringing me out in a way that made me soak up his advice more easily.  In taking over our bodies, he was taking over our minds.

“You are releasing endorphins that will automatically make you a happier person.  You don’t need drugs to make you happy or feel less pain.  Euphoria and pain-relief are within your own body.”

“Now drop into plank and hang out there.”

“Happiness supports brain grown.  When we exercise, we are also releasing a protein that increases our memory capacity.  A strong body makes us happier people which actually makes us smarter.”

His message continued.  Exercise defeats stress.  It fights disease and increases confidence.  Exercise is the foundation of all success.  I was about to vomit, and yet I was able to swallow everything he was feeding.

“There are 7 days in week.  If you only work out only 3 of those days, you’re better off throwing yourself down a flight of stairs or smoking crack.”  Our bodies need to move more than not.

Along with preaching the value of consistency, he continued to hammer his message.  “Add variety to your workouts, always increase intensity, set goals, be accountable.”

We held plank position, then he added intensity. “Now raise your right arm, lift your left leg.”

The audience was hurting.  When the stopwatch beeped zero, everyone collapsed.  And while he wore us down, he had an ability to build us up with encouragement.

“Don’t exercise to look good,” he insisted.  “Your ego is not enough to sustain exercise.”  When you make that perfect body, you have no where else to go.  “Exercise to live a better life.”  To live this better life, we just need to use our bodies.

I figured the girl beside me was trying to tighten up her buns.  The ripped guy beside her was finding his happy place.  As I continued sweating and keeping down the puke, I realized that we were all giving it our best, regardless of motive.  This was where I would disagree with the fitness guru.  It doesn’t matter to me our purpose to get off the couch.  If we go to a fitness class for a beach body or to improve our UFC fighter skills, the end result is the same: a healthier, stronger, and happier person.

After those sweaty session of pain and learning, I had a new opinion of Tony Horton.  He knew all the right reasons to workout.  I was so satisfied from taking his class, I even bought his video.  I expect it too will improve my life, especially when I can show my abs to a crowd of girls.

 

Busted by Spotify

Spotify–the mega music library with a social twist–is pretty much, awesome.  I don’t know who wouldn’t enjoy unlimited access to every song ever made.  It’s user-friendly, free, and subscribers will never have to buy another song again.  But because of its Facebook association, it means that if you play Cypress Hill’s Hits From the Bong, everyone logged-in, including your mom, will know it.

Not all songs make us look stupid though.  I was recently Spotifying my favorite punk rock album, No Control by Bad Religion, when a dear high school friend saw it.  Immediately, he “liked” it on Facebook.  We hadn’t talked in years, and we were able to connect, once more, like we were surfing a crowd again to the band we’d seen 20 years ago.

But sometimes, sharing music doesn’t have the same bonding effect.

Last week, during one of my more sensitive moments, I got busted listening to the entire album, Speak Now, by Taylor Swift.  I could have, with similar effect, gone bowling in a dress.  But instead, Spotify did the emasculating for me, notifying the world that I possess pansy tendencies.

That said, some music is meant to be kept private.  I mean, if I listened to Miley Cryus’ Party in the USA, like, ten times, I wouldn’t want the rest of the world to know it.  Not that I’ve ever done that, I swear.  And if Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream plays on my Spotify, you can bet my account has been high-jacked by high school cheerleaders.

Music tells our personal stories.  Lyrics can blast our political views, assert moral code, even state that being a bad boy’s not so bad.  When I see a friend playing Billy Currington’s Pretty Good at Drinking Beer, I’m pretty sure I know what he’s thinking.  And Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On, well, that might be too much information.  Just because music speaks for us, doesn’t mean all of us need to hear it.

What makes music so wonderful, however, is that when listening to it, we can privately be who we want.  We can swoon to Sade serenity, dance alone to Empire of the Sun, shed tears to a Band of Horses ballad.  Not that I have ever been busted doing these things, but I suppose it’s better that no one else knows.

But then again, Spotify may be a modern lesson in self-expression.  We are who we are, and there’s no shame in telling everyone.

But if that’s not enough to comfort those shameful Colby Caillat Crooners, Spotify offers a solution.  It has a “privacy” option, which blocks our Facebook friends, so our music is only for our ears whether we are banging heads or emptying a box of tissues.  But since it’s not the default, every time users log in, they must deliberately choose to privatize their listening habits.  If missed, there’s no telling what the world will think of you.

 

Give Back Gifts

My friend Kate works for the airlines which means she, and her peeps, basically fly for free.  It’s no biggie to her.  Just a perk to the job, like suntan to a lifeguard.  She recently gave me some airline tickets. To me and everyone else I know, it is a very big deal.

“You must have done something very nice for her?”  My friends ask, looking surprised and impressed, as if I’d saved her from drowning, or taught her kids how to speak French.

Not the case.

“We’re just friends,” I say with a shrug.  I’ve done nothing extraordinary to earn these gifts.

What I have done, however, is fly to Colorado to surprise a childhood friend on her wedding.  I watched fireworks light New York City on July 4th.  I also found surprise in San Francisco.  It may be just a perk to her job, but those gifts were priceless to me.  I owed her, big time.

She’s an outdoor athlete so I ordered her a gift certificate from Backcountry.com.  While emailing customer service on where to send it, I typed Kate’s name into the “To” field to verify her email address.  I copied it, paste in the message, and clicked send.  Giving gifts feels good, and I was tickled.  But since I forgot to delete her email as a recipient, I accidentally sent her a copy too.  Instantly, my surprise was ruined.

“ABORT THIS MISSION,” she replied immediately.  In fact, she was so adamant about refusing my gift that I nearly felt bad for offering.

I once dated a girl in college and after the first month, she bought me a nice watch.  If I had accepted it, I’d have been implying we were closer than we really were.  No one wants to receive gifts undeserved (holidays don’t count), nor do we want gifts that are bigger than the relationship warrants.  Big gift givers might be a little crazy anyway, so I kindly refused the watch.  Maybe this was how Kate felt about me.  She thought I was crazy.

But wait a minute.

Didn’t she give me a big gift first?  Didn’t I receive a gift that let me galavant the whole country and enjoy ethnic foods in different time zones?  Who’s the crazy, big gift giver now?  Oh, I’ll show her.  I waited a few weeks and sent my gift again with a note.  “Gotcha!  You can’t return now!  Haha!”

She threatened to return it.  I threatened to credit her Paypal account.  She said she’d credit me back.  I decided I was going to slip her cash.   Fortunately though, weeks passed, and the gift-war receded.  She never returned my gift.  I didn’t cough up any dough.

Some of the best advice I was given by an elder was when given a compliment, take it.   I was also told to never turn down a tip.  Instead, show gratitude.  That’s how we give back.

Today, I received an email from Backcountry.com confirming my “shipment” when I’d ordered nothing from them.  Why that sneaky little…  Oh, I was going to show her.  I’d return it, go to a local store, buy things fit only for a girl like lingerie and Taylor Swift Albums, then mail with no receipt and a note, “Take that!”

I know, I know.  That may be getting a little crazy.  I should first see if I like what’s in that shipment.

New Yorker Not

Claire had never been to Montana.  She didn’t even know where it was.  This girl I just met had been in New York City her whole life, and while she may have been geographically puzzled, she knew one thing.

“You’re not from around here,” she said.

We were drinking cocktails in SoHo at the Spring Lounge.  I was feeling especially dapper in a crisp shirt and polished shoes.  I even had an entourage of local friends.  But something set me apart from the others, and Claire knew it.  Maybe I was uncommonly polite.  Maybe I was too trustful from the start.  She couldn’t explain it, but she knew I was different, as if I just pulled straw from my mouth, lifted a cowboy hat, and spat on the floor.  No Mam, I ain’t from here.

“Not that that’s a bad thing,” she insisted, which was comforting, but still disconcerting.  Why did I not fit in?

I may not possess that New York edge, but I’ve been to the Big Apple enough times to master the subway and recognize a Long Island accent.  I’ve met clients on Avenue of the Americas, jogged miles in Brooklyn, ice skated in Bryant Park, had my fortune told at Coney Island.  For a country boy, I’d say I’ve grown comfortable in the big city.  But Claire, my new New York friend, was right.  I was a visitor.

I grew up riding lawnmowers and dirt bikes.  After college, I moved to a ski resort in The Big Sky State.   Growing up in the country made me afraid of the city.  It was where cars got stolen, girls got raped, and gangs killed skinny white boys for their sneakers.  OK, I’ll admit now that I was a little naive then.  But maybe Claire could sense my innocence even if I had outgrown my urban fears.  As diverse as New Yorkers are, they still have the ability to spot an outsider.  I shouldn’t have been surprised though.  New Yorkers stand out in mountain towns too.  

But the great thing about New York is that visitors and locals can behave alike.  There are enough activities, opportunities, and places to eat that first-time experiences await everyone, everyday.  Even my local friends, Jeff and Lauren Solomon, have no qualms about being tourists in their hometown.  They suggested we try the twilight sail around Ellis Island.  Once I saw that our vessel resembled a pirate ship, I was in.

It was then, aboard, that we all fell in love with New York like our first time.

Once we drifted away from Pier 17 onto the Hudson, the city no longer felt like a city.  It was quiet.  The sky looked bigger than Montana.  Planes glided overhead like flocks of birds.  Skyscrapers stood like mountains.  As we passed the Statue of Liberty, Lauren, who grew up on Long Island, touched her heart.  It had always moved her, she said, ever since she was a kid.  While no one on the boat came from the same place–from French speaking lovers to Asian toddlers–together, we all felt it too.  As the sun tiptoed from the sky, the horizon ignited like golden campfire, and the iconic lady waved her torch to us as she had done for our ancestors generations past.  My appreciation for American freedom never felt so natural as the wind sailed us past her feet.  At that moment, anyone could have fit in, in New York City.

 

Standby Surprise

It’s risky to fly standby, but I did it anyway.  I was heading to Eugene with a layover in San Francisco.  Worried I might get stuck in the Bay Area, I phoned my local friends in advance, which is a fairly awkward conversation.  “Would love to see you guys if I can’t get to where I really want to go.”  Luckily though, I have friends who don’t take it personally for being second choice.

Airports are not always the friendliest of places.  Add weather delays and cancellations, they are about as fun as a flip phone video game.  The clouds above SFO were thick like bread and touching the Golden Gate.  I was lucky to have arrived.  Once landed, I knew I wasn’t getting out.

The airport was so busy, no seats were available in the waiting area.  Passengers were mad at the airlines, mad at the weather, mad at the privileged ones who had seats.  I was so tired of standing I envied a man in a wheelchair like “what makes you so lucky.”

Then it occurred to me that spending a night in San Francisco would be a much happier place.

I’d only been there a few times, once during spring break, and another time when I was five.  It was all new to me this time: the ocean-side smells, the pastel buildings, the train ride on BART.  I met my friends in Oakland at Dopo, a boutique cafe with homemade pasta and house cured salami (where pronounced “SAW-luh-MAY”).  The greeter was one of those guys who acted like he’d been waiting to meet you his whole life.  Everything said welcome.

I hadn’t seen the lovely Jim and Kat Goodrich for 6 months.  We had lots to discuss—travel, families, health, fashion.  Dinner was nothing shy of perfect—tasty food and lively company.  Even the staff felt like friends.  After some cocktails, the night passed by as smoothly as cars on country roads.  This place felt like home.  Remarkable how good friends can do that.

So Eugene was no longer my destination.  I found everything I needed in this one, incidental evening with my delightful friends.  I was convinced that my purpose had been served.

But then we drove home.

Bending up a green hillside to Piedmont Pines, the road came to a T.  At the junction was a rock shaped like a broad bench (see above).  It had been entirely painted white with a message that wished someone happy birthday.  It was clearly an amateur job, a step above graffiti, a staircase below professional.

“What’s that?”  I asked Kat.

She explained that it was a community rock that their neighborhood took turns painting cute messages on like Happy Birthday, or Welcome Home So-And-So.

“Are there lots of those in San Fran?”  I continued.

“It’s the only one I know of,” she said.  I kept asking questions like how long it had been there, and when it started.  She seemed surprised I was so intrigued.  “Why?”  She asked.

I had this eery feeling sinking into me like I’d been here before in a dream, or deja vu was tricking me.  I couldn’t wave it off.

In 1980, my parents flew us from our home in Pennsylvania to San Francisco to visit their dear friend and my namesake, Victor Herwick.  It was my birthday.  I vaguely remember being there, and since Victor no longer lived there, the experience had long been forgotten.  But I recalled him painting a rock that greeted us.  Communities painting rocks, after all, is kind of weird.  Maybe that’s why it rang a bell.  Or maybe there was a picture.  I had only one way to find out.  I called Mom.

It was the next day when she found a possible picture to email me.  It was another oddly painted rock.  Behind it stood my parents, their friends and my childhood pals.  The rock said “Big Den (my dad) and Mary K (my mom) welcome. Happy Birthday Vic.”

Although the picture was a little blurry, one thing was clear–the street signs.

San Francisco has over a hundred neighborhoods and districts, 30,000 street corners, and more roads than Montana has homes.  Just so happened that my parents brought me to this exact same neighborhood 32 years ago, and posed behind the same rock, on the same street corner of Chelton and Ascot.

I still don’t know what reliving this forgotten memory means.

Perhaps it’s a reminder that life’s path is more about the journey than the destination.  The world is not so big after all and our pasts will always return to us.  Maybe we end up where we’re supposed to no matter our plan.  Or maybe our forgotten moments are only as good as the friends who help us relive them.  After all, without friends, none of this would have ever happened.

Roller Derby Real

 

I’d always thought that women’s roller derby was fake like pro wrestling.  For starters, players use fake names.  Secondly, they compete in the same footwear that grade school kids do the Hokey-Pokey in.  Some of these adult woman wear Pippy Longstocking leggings, ballerina skirts, or pink polka dots.  No way this sport is meant to be taken seriously.  I recently attended my first bout in Bozeman, MT.  Turns out these girls are all business.

 

The Gallatin Roller Girls faced Billings’ Motor City Rollers.  At the start line, no one was smiling.  Most of them sported warpaint on their faces.  When the whistle blew, the rink turned into a fury of racing females ruthlessly shoving their opponents to make way for their scoring Jammer.  Arms tangled, elbows flew, bodies fell and slapped concrete louder than the roaring audience.  One woman proudly wore a sticker that read “My roller derby wife beats me.”  I believed her.

 

Like muscled men in tights, roller derby girls have stage names that give off toughness, but with humor.  Some of my favorites are Agatha Crushtie, Genghis Mom, Auntie Climax. In fact, 20,000 original names currently make up the national roster.  Derby hopefuls can even use a name generator where they type in their real name and it delivers a unique, I-can-murder-you-with-a-wink, identity.  While the name game seems like a joke, it is so serious that policies forbid two players from having the same name.  Everyone on the rink possesses a unique, personal identity.  After all, having two Hellen Killers would be too cruel.  One Hit Wanda only plays once.  And surely the world is not so evil that it has two Annie Christs.

But again, this is still a serious sport with penalty boxes, rules, and refs (although they have pseudo names too like John F. Penalty).  Nationally, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association boasts more teams than the NHL, NBA and NFL combined.

On that night, the Gallatin Roller Girlz destroyed the Magic City Rollers with such champion teammates as Angry Amy, Rin the Reaper, and Tornado Juice.  Their opponents like Sophie King Vicious, Left Hook Lacey, and Southern Hostility couldn’t handle the strength of Montana’s mountain girls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Their names may crack a smile, but their game can crack a skull.  No joke.

Their next home match is against Jackson Hole on August 25.  Mountain town against mountain town, we may see blood.

Bachelors and Little Brains

Mission: kill, get candy.

 

Going to a toddler’s birthday party as a bachelor is like playing beer-pong sober.  You’re going to lose.  But when your parent-friends are cooking enough food to feed K thru 12, even a playboy will buddy up with screaming children and their unavailable moms.

It was a messy affair.  Kids dropped cake and stepped in it.  Adults spilled beer and dogs licked it.  Piñata shrapnel doused the yard.  A 5-piece drum set was in the living room, and every kid passing by thought he was Tommy Lee, minus the rhythm.  Minus the tattoos too, but this was still a rowdy crew.

Inside, crashing cymbals shook the walls.  Outside, on a trampoline, children tumbled over one another like a roller derby pileup.  Everywhere, adults were chowing on heaps of food.  All ages were smiling.

Doesn't get old.

A friend, John, was the only other single guy there.  He was in the kitchen when I stepped in.  At first sight of me, he clutched on.

“What are you doing here?”

I waved a drumstick in his face.  He nodded.

“You?”  I asked.

“Same.”

Simultaneously, we both stopped chewing and exchanged a look like, us bachelors gotta stick together.  We were outnumbered.

Then Kene Sperry came over to us.  He was holding his 3 year old, Neko, who I’ve known her whole life.  She’s still shy and hides from strangers, sometimes me.  Perched over her dad’s shoulder, she glanced over.  That’s when the magic happened.

“Hi Victor,” she whispered.  It was the first time she’d ever greeted me unprompted by an adult.

Kids have little brains.  The limited space up there is meant for ice cream and playtime.  For this little one to remember me was a big deal.  I thought I’d reached achievement when the owner of our company of 7000 employees first called me by name.  It validated my existence as an employee.  Hearing this little kid remember me, in a way, validated my existence as a living person.

I wanted to stand on a chair and face the crowd.  “You hear that people,” I’d yell.  “A 3-year-old knows me!”  At this kid’s party and beyond, I was certain, I belonged.

Flip Phone Fashion

Yes, that’s a flip phone.

I’ve hung on to a flip phone longer than most people. Every time I snap open its lid in front of new company, they are puzzled like I just pulled a banana from my pocket and held it to my ear.

“Nice flip phone,” they tease and roll their eyes. “Using a dial up connection at home too?”

Haha, very funny. “It is a Blackberry!” I protest, “Has emails and Pandora!”

“Suuure,” they reply. No one seems impressed.

Yet I still don’t get it. This phone does everything I need. Plays games, has Shazam, and a little tool I like to call The World Wide Web. Plus, it fits in my pocket as comfortably as a matchbook. What I’m learning though, is that flip phones are simply unfashionable. And the problem is, unlike leopard print tights, I don’t expect them to be making a comeback.

I have always considered myself “in fashion.” I match the belt with the shoes, own cuff links and a fancy watch. I even know when to pop my collar and when to don a fedora. But now, after repeated jokes, and a Hannibal Buress Stand-up, I am starting to question my mobile device of choice.

Perhaps I am too self conscious, but I was recently riding the subway in New York City with my trusty mobile device agape, my nose buried deep in a game of Solitaire, and I felt people eyeing me. Sure, my argyle socks matched the stitching in my blazer, but that wasn’t it. The guy beside me was on his phone playing Tony Hawks’s ProSaker 4, the gal with him was talking to Siri, and the dapper fellah in the middle was checking his heart rate. My phone can’t do that.

What it can do, is make a resounding clap when it shuts, like a single-hand applause for a job well done. Still not impressed? It has a cool sticker on it too. And as I’ve learned, it gives people something to talk (or laugh) about. If I were a salesman for this out-dated mobile device, my tagline would be, “Blackberry Flip, now that’s original!”

But I had further doubt when I recently visited my parents. My dad, who wears glasses bigger than Elvis Costello and may sport socks with his sandals, pointed at his new Samsung Galaxy with youthful excitement.

He typed our home address in Google maps. “Now look,” he said . Then he zoomed into the street until it showed a photo of our house.

“Isn’t that neat!?!?” He was thrilled like he just discovered a secret passageway in the house. “Can your phone do that?”

“No Dad, it can’t.”

The First Class Game

Waiting for a 1st Class upgrade is like rooting for my favorite sports team.  My name is on the overhead monitor against a dozen other challengers.  Two seats remain and we all want to reach the finals.  I am in Denver, and I don’t give a damn how the Broncos, Avs, or the Rockies are doing.  I want Team Me to win by any means, even if my competitors miss their connections, lose their ID before security, or fall down an escalator.  I need this victory.

I’ve been fortunate to receive a First Class upgrade and know that it’s worth fighting for.  Food and drink are free, I have long legs, and flight attendants treat you like royalty.  They hang your coat, serve you hot towels with tongs, and offer drinks before the public is seated.  You even have a private bath.

One time, a flight attendant gave me her number when I was riding in the proper F cabin.  Fooled by my First Class-ness, she didn’t know I’d used all my minutes that month and wasn’t calling anyone.  Nor did she know I drove a dented pickup, ate generic cereal, and loved Ross Dress for Less.  No less, First Class can make any scrub feel like, well, First Class.

Fortunately for me, I have a job that lets me travel enough to be awarded premier status.  While I may not possess that common debonair for seat 1A, I don’t want to look like an amateur in case I get the win.  Phil Michelson could be beside me rolling his eyes. How did this guy get here?  Before I go to the airport, I’ll press my nicest shirt, tuck it into pressed slacks, get a fresh cut and shave.  Uncharacteristically, I’ll even pay for the shoe shine.  The way I see it, you got to look first class if you’re ever going to be first class, even if you ain’t.

So I am back in Denver, now it’s down to one seat available.  Naturally, I’m still cheering for myself, and if it really were a sporting event, I’d be wearing the matching cap and jersey with my name.  I’d have the over-sized foam mitt that points the #1 finger, and I’d stuff it in my opponent’s eye.  “You’re going down losers.”  I’d even sport the game-day face paint.

Then we hear over the intercom, “First Class has checked in full.”

Game over.