Hit the Road, Jack

My life is renewed when tires meet the road.

It’s always been that way, for as far back as I can remember. When I feel pressed down, or stressed, or worried, I hit the road and I’m made whole. Maybe it’s the self-induced isolation, or maybe it’s giving myself time to think and unwind and enjoy the scenery. I don’t know enough to explain it, but I know that it works.

So it was this weekend, when I left town to see my good college friends Andrea and Keith. On the way to see Andrea in Harrisburg, PA, I took a small section of the old Lincoln Highway – what is now US-30. I’ve been to Pennsylvania twice, and driven through it twice, and have never seen much of the state because it was always dark when I drove through. It’s a beautiful Commonwealth, full of hills and trees and old American farms, and traveling down an old highway reminded me of the Route 66 trip, if only briefly.

My visit to Keith’s was an exploration in the truly unknown. Nobody thinks of Columbus, OH when they think of big American cities, but I do now. It’s a fine town, complete with a fully-operational Apple Store and a (ahem) major American university. Keith made an excellent host and tour guide, and gave me a whole-day’s respite from the road. I like driving, but I also like not moving for a while.

Monday, my birthday, had me hitting the road once again, knowing that when I got back home things would go back to normal. Sure, it’s nice to return home from a long trip, but I dread the part of me that feels like I never left in the first place. The road’s romance is short-lived, it seems, and I only get the benefit in the doing. And maybe the remembering, days and weeks and years later.

I drive to escape, mostly. To get out of town, to Go Somewhere, and leave the everyday behind. I surely can’t drink and eat like I do when I’m on vacation. And I can’t suspend life’s rules like I do when I’m on the road. All I can do is take a little piece of the road home with me. See this big, beautiful country we live in. Perhaps take some pictures, too.


Something To Digest

A true test of any fitness level is the paczki, a Polish doughnut usually eaten in America on Fat Tuesday. They’re a big hit around Michigan, Toledo, and areas of high Polish-population density. And they’re delicious.

My test came after I devoured my paczki on Tuesday. Because I’m diabetic, I have to be careful about eating carbohydrates. My body doesn’t produce insulin on its own, so if I eat more than my insulin injection can handle, my bloodsugar spikes drastically. Tuesday, post-paczki, this didn’t happen.

To top it off, I also had a sizable breakfast at Rotary: eggs, bacon, and a few pancakes with strawberry jam, plus the usual orange juice and coffee combo.

By all accounts, my insulin shot should have only covered my egg-and-pancake meal. After the paczki hit my stomach, my body would have searched for any leftover insulin to cover the pastry bomb. Finding none, it should have spiked my bloodsugar, turning my plasma into a system-wide poison.

Again, this didn’t happen. When I check my bloodsugar levels before lunch, my machine read “108.” Normal bloodsugar for diabetics is anywhere from 80-120. Mine was perfect.

I can explain this in two ways. First, on my own, I’ve started to adjust my insulin medication to fit the meals I eat. If I eat less carbs for breakfast, I take less insulin after breakfast. If I eat a lunch full of carbs, I take a bit of extra insulin. My bloodsugar level also gets factored in: high bloodsugar equals a bit of extra insulin to take care of it. There’s some math involved, but it’s not too complicated.

Except now, through trial and error, I’ve figured out how much insulin I need when I eat, say, a salad-and-fruit dinner. My bloodsugar has dipped a few times when I took too much insulin after such a meal, but I’ve learned from those experiences. Now my adjustments are much more accurate, and my bloodsugar remains stable.

Before, I would have to eat enough carbs to cover the insulin I took after my meal. I had a set level of insulin I would take after every meal, so if I didn’t eat enough my bloodsugar would crash. Now, I don’t have that problem. I can eat what I want, and adjust the insulin – not the other way around.

That’s number one. Number two is, with my gym membership, I’ve had to adjust my insulin around my meals. Since my metabolism is running pretty steadily these days, any insulin I took would have a bigger affect. When your body is more efficient at burning calories, you need less insulin to make up the difference. This is why healthy people don’t become Type 2 diabetics.

Which makes something really obvious: the body is a wonderful, remarkable machine. This plus this equals that. Excercise plus insulin equals flexibility.

And flexibility is something I haven’t had with my diet in a long, long time.

So when that paczki was finished digesting, I had enough insulin and enough metabolism to cover the beast. Instead of taking more insulin at lunch to cover lunch and the paczki, I only had to worry about lunch. And since I had chili and an apple for lunch, I had even less carbs in my system.

This, friends, is progress. It’s a system that has helped me prevent a lot of the high-and-low swings that are epidemic among Type 1 diabetics. Because my bloodsugar doesn’t crash after I take my insulin, I don’t eat as much – and because I don’t eat as much, I can take less insulin. In fact, if I could subsist on plain vegetables, I might not need to take insulin at all.

But let’s not get crazy, here. I love paczki and fruit and bread too much to let that go. So I’ll work with the system.

And, these days, the system is working great.


Standing At The Waterline

“Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.” – Hunter S. Thompson, 1986

As General Motors and Chrysler crumble and teeter like a top-heavy Jenga game, I can’t help but feel apathetic. These are the people who inspire the need for a new car. In fact, their whole business (or lack of) depends on Americans buying vehicles that lose their value the minute they leave the dealership lot.

How strange, I think. But maybe not. Our whole economic system, after all, depends on the new, the shiny, the weird. Maybe it plays to the Grand Ego of our country – the one that says we’re the best, so we need the best.

I’ll probably never buy a new car, so my economic decisions won’t ever help to save an ailing auto company. GM will survive or die without me. There’s comfort in that thought; I have no individual responsibility for saving a company that was once the symbol and thermometer of American progress. I’ve checked out of the system. No fault of mine.

Used vehicles are the lifeblood of my place of employment, and there’s dignity in that thought. When all the banks are dying or being bought up like on-sale antiques, credit unions stand apart thanks to their not-for-profit status, their democratic decision-making, and their responsbility to serve the underserved. I didn’t know a lot of this when I got the job, but as the years have gone on, I take pride in my industry’s philosophy – probably because it matches my own.

Used cars. Used Macs. Used CDs on eBay. Even used clothing, when it smells decent. Perhaps I should have been born in the Depression. Lord knows I’m still lucky enough to have a job in the current one.

Our generation may have a wake-up call coming. America’s ego has been made flesh in every generation since the Baby Boomers, and while our generation is politically active and commercially cynical, it still thinks a lot of itself.

Republicans, and a lot of Democrats, see nothing wrong with this. They’ve been selling the idea of America as a Place That Does No Wrong for a long, long time. It’s only lately that our giant national id has been laid low. Being humble is not an American trait that comes naturally, but lately we’ve had no choice.

I know this personally. 2008 was a stupid, stressful, bumble-headed year for me. It taught me a lot about my limits and faults, and I’ve thought a lot about them this winter. It’s been good for me.

Which is why I can only wish the same for all of us, as a country and a people. The world is too nasty and too chaotic to keep our national credit card on an over-the-limit status. We’re now at the waterline, as Dr. Thompson mentioned, and the sharks are circling nearby.

That adrenaline rush we feel in our gut is evolution at its most basic: fight or flight. Which way do we go? Do we strive for a more meaningful and fulfilling life? Or do we seek meaning in a life looking for a bailout?

We’ve been at the top of the food chain for a long time now. But the sharks have been around a lot longer, and they have no ego to keep in check.


Don’t Stop Believin’

What is it about Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”?

What is it about that song that has our generation in such a craze? Maybe you’ve heard: “Don’t Stop Believin’” (hereafter referred to as DSB) is the number-one selling song of all time(!) on iTunes. All time. Number one.

It’s friggin’ Journey, for Steve Perry’s sake!

I keep hearing that its inclusion in “The Soprano’s” finale, or how the 2005 World-Series-winning White Sox made it their song, that that’s why it’s so freaking popular now. But I just can’t believe it. I think it started years before then, because I’ve seen how our generation has latched onto it like nobody’s business.

It makes sense. Released in 1981, right at the buttcrack of Gen X and Gen Y (and my own birth year), DSB lives in the foggy troughs of our childhood memories. Most Journey songs do. “Anyway You Want It” has always been my personal favorite, because I remember listening to it on our local rock station, Q106, growing up. “Stone In Love” is pretty damn good, too, and makes a great summer song.

DSB, though, is in a class all by itself. I have been struck stone sober as a bar full of twenty-somethings set down their drinks, raise their fists, and struggle to reach the highest notes of “some-where in the NIIIGGGHHHTTTT!”

Andrea’s wedding featured a white person’s dance floor, complete with air guitars and arena rock. And what song was, arguably, the most popular – besides “Bohemian Rhapsody” (probably Gen X’s own DSB, at its height, thanks to “Wayne’s World”)? You guessed it. Every friggin’ person on that dance floor knew the words. It’s amazing.

And now I’ve learned that our generation, the iPod generation, has taken to this song so much that they’ve blessed Apple with ungodly amounts of money via iTunes downloads. It’s not Britney, or 50 Cent, or that cracker Jack Johnson. It’s not even other arena rockers like Boston or Foreigner or…hell…even REO Speedwagon. No, it’s Steve Perry and his dysfunctional bunch of Frisco hippies.

Don’t get me wrong: I like the song. I’ve probably karaoke’ed it a couple of times in some drunken stupor. Don and I have covered many Journey songs, in fact, and slaughter each one of them. As with Def Leppard and Bon Jovi, bars gravitate toward these kinds of songs – and only a few people screw up the lyrics. It’s frightening to think that an entire generation of misfits that drink from the well of YouTube and quench their thirst on Facebook would have the brain capacity to remember songs from just before they were born. What sense does that make?

I understand the longing for something from the past to hold on to. Each decade brings back tricks from previous eras (grunge and Sabbath, Interpol and Joy Division, pop punk with whoever that one band is that sucks). Then what, in this grim time on Earth, can we learn from Journey?

Maybe that’s just it. There’s nothing to be learned. Maybe it’s all in the mindless fun. That boy from “South Detroit” (they would call it “Downriver”)? He’s us. And to a generation who has never been without want, we never stop believing. We don’t know any other way.


It’s Morning Again In America

It was about 4 p.m. yesterday that I stopped caring about being a participant in the election and wanted to be merely a spectator. With the highest voter turnout ever and hundreds of volunteers spread across Jackson county, helping to turn the “birthplace of the Republican Party” blue for the first time since LBJ, my modest phone-banking efforts Tuesday afternoon were strained. My ear was rubbed raw, my voice was scratchy, and I had been up since 5:30 a.m.

Besides, I had a hot pot of Election Night chili waiting for me at home. And friends, you can’t argue with that.

But what an incredible ride. I think the New York Times put it best:

The election of Mr. Obama amounted to a national catharsis — a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies, and an embrace of Mr. Obama’s call for a change in the direction and the tone of the country.

It was a catharsis of sorts for me, as well, after the incredibly upsetting weekend I had. That Mark Schauer commercial I was in? The Jackson Citizen Patriot’s Chris Gautz suspected something from the beginning. How did all those unemployed people get into that factory, he wondered.

Then, on Friday, The Adrian Telegram broke the news. Little ol’ me and my one-hit-per-day personal blog injects some extra controversy into the campaign. Suddenly I’m an “actor,” and the entire premise of Schauer’s ad is thrown into question. This weekend, the Battle Creek Enquirer picked up the story, and Chris Gautz from the CitPat writes an “I told you so” column.

And it was all kicked off by a press release from the Walberg campaign. Someone had found my blog post, and they were telling all.

First, a confession: the whole deal was totally my fault. I should have kept my big mouth shut. Despite Walberg pulling his own shenanigans and generally being a big creep, it was naive of me to think that no one would stumble on my personal blog.

This all went down Thursday, so the rest of the weekend I kept my head down, made phone calls for the Schauer campaign, and tried to make up for whatever damage I had caused. Tuesday night I even skipped the big Democratic party at the Michigan Theatre; I just wanted it all to be over.

Luckily, Schauer won the election after the returns from the local cities – Jackson, Battle Creek, and Adrian – came in reliably for the Dems. My original thoughts behind volunteering for Schauer (Obama will win Michigan, but the 7th Congressional race would be much tighter) turned out to be spot-on, because we didn’t know Schauer won until Wednesday morning. So my little controversy amounted to little more than a blip on the local political radar, though it was enough for folks to pick on me at the Democratic office.

I spent yesterday morning at the St. John’s polling location, not far from downtown, then I came back to the Dem office to eat lunch and make calls for the rest of the afternoon. It was amazing to see such a hub of activity: Obama voters by the dozens streaming in and out (and an incredible amount of African Americans helping), phone lines buzzing, and the mood of the place steadily rising as we all felt the Change coming. A lady came up from Oklahoma to help out with the election, and one of the guys she called was so excited about the day’s events he asked her out on the spot, right there over the phone.

With the local elections now out of my hands, I went to grandma’s for a bit, and then came home to concentrate on watching CNN’s iPhone-like touchscreen numbers and listening to MSNBC’s commentary for the rest of the night, watching state after incredible state fall for Obama. I heard Tom Delay, that know-nothing fool, predict that it would be Nancy Pelosi, not Barack Obama, that takes control of the country. After Ohio went blue, my grandma called crying.

The Michigan ballot proposals, one for legalizing marijuana for medical use and one supporting stem cell research, passed in a state that, only four years ago, voted to add a one-man, one-woman marriage clause to our constitution. Incredible.

On several levels, this will be my first active, participatory election. It’s the first I’ve given my heart to a politician that had a slim chance of winning. It’s the first my name saw shame in the local newspapers. It’s also the first that I can say, with all honesty, has made me question whether this whole political thing is right for me.

The amount of energy it takes to run something like a Congressional race is staggering. It’s like having sex for for a full year with someone you can’t stand the site of, and – at the climax – you have a 50/50 chance of either getting off or having a stroke mid-coitus.

But like sex, most of the fun comes in the participation. In college, I liked campaigning far more than I ever liked governing. The thought that a few of my efforts helped stem the tide of idiocy is comforting; even my slip-up couldn’t stop Schauer from winning.

As Andrea said, I wonder what’s next. My God, can we really look forward to at least two years of campaign-free news cycles? Will the economic turmoil cast us over the cliff? Will reason and decency and hope be enough to undo the damage done to our wonderful country?

I like to think so. This morning my thoughts reached out to Ronald Reagan, my childhood president, when he said, “It’s morning again in America.” Barack Obama is our generation’s president just like John F. Kennedy was my grandma’s president, and just like FDR was my great grandpa’s president. It remains to be seen what kind of impact he’ll actually have in the White House, but who can doubt things will be different from here on out.

Hope springs eternal.


Americans Are Masochistic In Maine

You start throwing around phrases like “economic downturn” and “…not since the Depression,” and it makes one question the sanity of cutting out of town on another cross-country trip – where even the Hamptons are facing declining real estate values.

Gas. Wheat and milk. The price of everything, except houses, is going up, and here I sit on the edge of discovery, ready to journey into the heart of Old America and look into our revolutionary past. What shaped us as a country? Where did the Founding Fathers come from? Is fresh-off-the-boat crab meat really that tasty?

The answers to these questions, and more, I hope to find when I set out on May 16 to the original colonies. I’ll land on my own version of Plymouth Rock, I’ll walk down the streets of Philadelphia, bread in hand, and I’ll swim in the same pond that taught Thoreau to abandon his fellow citizens and embrace the wilderness as the last respite of a sanity-seeking intelligence. If he could spend time in prison to protest his country’s war-mongering, then surely I can sit on the banks of the Delaware and find out if Washington’s late-night crossing was worth the trouble.

Jefferson taught that a government should keep its powers within the confines of the Constitution, except while he was president, and so I don’t feel so bad taking my government money and putting it into my gas tank to run wild all over New England. If Route 66 was a quest to discover the world and my place in it, this trip is a journey to the roots of our country. What makes us tick? Where do we come from? Why can you talk about the weather with anyone, anywhere, anytime and not sound like a raving lunatic?

I’ve decided that I renting a car for this trip would be a waste. The states are so small, and the driving so non-perilous, that my little Suzuki should do just fine. It would have croaked on the side of some Colorado mountainside, but I believe the rolling hills of Vermont will not be such a chore.

I’ve also decided that, since the states are so close together, the back roads and state highways will be more than adequate to see everything I want to see in a reasonable amount of time.

The trip begins where our Declaration of Independance did: in Philadelphia, a logical starting point to a trek so historical. I’ll lay eyes on the Liberty Bell, and Mr. Franklin’s printing shop, and the building where demigods, as Jefferson called them, met and decided to try out a nation-sized experiment. From there it’s down to Maryland, up to Delaware and New Jersey, and straight through for a night (or two) in Boston and on to Maine, where I’ll stream through Route 1 and 3 on back to New Hampshire. Vermont is a resting stop before tackling Saratoga and upstate New York, with a finish through wherever I think the Adams Family (presidential, not kooky) would want to see last.

These trips are the travel equivalent to a Greatest Hits album: not a full picture, but a quick browse-through of the catalog. I may not get to a Red Socks game, but I’ll be sure to grab a picture of Fenway if I’m in the neighborhood.

The vacation time is set, the money is in the bank – what I need now are a few B&B ideas and a map of rest stops for those nights I feel like braving the New England spring nights in my spacious backseat. Nothing beats an economic downturn like a trip out of town and a few adventures along the way. Clinton and Obama can fight for the few remaining states until they’re blue-er in the face; I’ll be finding out about the prize they so greedily seek.

All that’s left is the getting there.