2018 In Words And Pictures

If you think the world is hopelessly messed up, please turn off the TV and all your other screens and go for a walk.  Put that crap in a box.  It is true that we humans have been screwing up a lot lately and the situation is dire, but the world is still a wonderful and surprising place in uncountable ways. You might not get this message from your glowing blue screen, but in 2018, Tania and I saw it almost everywhere else we looked.

Our most joyful news is the addition of a new family member.  Emma was engaged to Ayyappan Venktraman (who goes by “Pan”) at a gala nichayathartham, or Hindu engagement ceremony, thrown by his parents for 150 guests at a temple in Washington DC on December 8.  Love won again, and all bowed down before the new king and queen of our hearts.

[As you read, you can click on the photos to make them larger]

Over the last two and a half years, Pan courted Emma and all the other Edmondsons while balancing a tough residency in psychiatry with a girlfriend who was going through an even tougher residency in pediatrics and internal medicine.  Sometimes Emma and Pan didn’t see each other for several days in a row, even though they lived in the same apartment.  There were times when America’s upside-down medical system ground them both down to the nub.  Yet they still threw great parties.  When Emma turned 30 on January 28, for example, all the young doctors went bowling and the old folks (in back) made a lot of new friends.

We saw many good friends this year, and we have lots of grainy snapshots of smiling people, but you probably don’t want to hear about all of them (if you do, click on the link above).  Still, I can’t resist this shot of our friends David Wax and Suz Slezak, who perform and tour as The David Wax Museum and definitely deserve your attention, playing at a house concert we threw two days after the bowling party.  Thanks to Peter Carroll for the photo.  As I said, it was a very good year.

We were also fortunate to have another visit with Ellison and Escher, offspring of niece Lindsay and her husband Luis, in Austin, Texas.  They are the first two entrants in our family’s grandchild derby, and it will be very hard to beat them for pure delight.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention 106 Short Street’s Man Of The Year, John Crutchfield, who demolished our old kitchen, built us a beautiful new one from scratch, and then came over to eat from that kitchen and tell funny stories.  If you’re looking for a good Ithaca Fixer, you won’t do any better than this guy.

The nichayathartham was one of two events that blew our minds last year. The other was our second noncommercial rowing trip through the Grand Canyon, 225 miles from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek.  We were unbelievably lucky to get the National Park Service’s permit and assemble eight highly skilled teammates, including three jolly geologists, who got us through without a hitch.  Once again, we were allowed to spend 16 days and nights in probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.  The trip was also a long stretch of extremely hot, sandy, and wet 12-hour work days, with scorpions lurking.

The Canyon beat us up and bestowed its grace upon us relentlessly.  After three weeks outdoors in an Arizona summer (and only one scorpion bite, which Rod said was painful but not serious), we returned home dehydrated, disoriented, and full of wonder.  We took hundreds of jaw-dropping photos and will be happy to share on request (or you can see my report on the 2014 trip here).  This shot shows us touching The Great Unconformity, a huge gap in the geologic record.  The Precambrian rocks below the Unconformity are up to 1.75 billion years old. The Tapeats Sandstone, directly on top, is only 500 million years old.  Who knows where the time goes?

Speaking of relentless, one can’t ignore the wildfires, wars, famines, dying reefs, and the sociopath-in-chief who manages to make even George W. Bush look good.  It’s awful and depressing.  We can suggest three coping strategies.  One is to think of news as nutrition. Try to consume news only from high-quality sources, and don’t eat too much.  Another strategy is to get a daily dose of exercise, a powerful antidepressant.

The best exercise for us happened outdoors on sunny days on cross-country skis or bicycles.  And the best of the best happened when we discovered something surprising and wonderful during the trip, like this statue of Luther Burbank on Bodega Avenue in Sebastapol, California.  We did not know that Burbank, the world-renowned agronomist who lived in Sonoma County 100 years ago, was also described in a contemporary newspaper account as “notorious” and “a terror on two wheels.”  The statue stands outside of his Experiment Farm, where he spent decades developing plants that everyone still uses, including the Shasta Daisy and a strain of potato that is probably in your crisper drawer right now.

The third coping strategy is activism.  We wrote checks, mailed postcards, and marched in the streets. We also went door-to-door for my friend Tracy Mitrano, who mounted an unexpectedly strong challenge to our disappointing four-term incumbent, Tom Reed.  Tracy took no money from corporate political action committees, marshalled an army of 2,000 volunteers, came within a few points of winning, and immediately announced her candidacy for 2020.  She proved to be a happy warrior – she made a herculean effort, discovered that it was just the first round, and decided to stay in the game.  That’s how you win, friends.

Our year ended with a memorable celebration.  We visited my mom in Florida, who made one of her famous bourbon cakes for her beloved brother Michael and sister-in-law Marilla in Boulder, Colorado.  The cake was so nice that we delivered it to Boulder in person, where Michael, 84, delighted us all by temporarily turning back into a little boy on Christmas morning. There was love and good cheer everywhere.

But really, nothing else in our momentous year compared with our pride in Will, Zoe, Emma, and Pan, who looks a little tired here after pulling off a flawless nichayathartham.  I didn’t even mention the apartment Will and Zoe bought in Manhattan, or their fascinating jobs and fabulous trips, or Pan’s rapport with the residents of Philadelphia’s psych wards, or the day Emma performed CPR on a stranger who was having a heart attack at a gate in O’Hare Airport.  We are truly blessed to know them, and we are also truly grateful for your friendship and attention. Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous New Year!

2017 In Pictures

We are treehuggers, but we’re also loggers.  This is Emma at the local tree farm with last year’s Fraser Fir, which served us well as 2017 began.

This is a rare shot of Emma NOT working.  She and her partner, Ayyappan Venkatraman, are plowing through their residencies at Penn Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (pediatrics and internal medicine for Emma, psychiatry for Pan), and they are almost always wearing white coats and/or sleepy.  But it’s all good.

As you scroll down, click on the thumbnail photos to make them larger.

Okra is a West African plant that is not supposed to grow in Ithaca, New York, but our backyard crop was bountiful this year.  The freezer is bulging with vegetables—ours and others from friends with whom we engage in semi-competitive food swapping and storage meets during harvest season.


I am still getting paid to look for news in strange places.  This shot is from the mammoth annual trade show of the Private Label Manufacturers Association.  But most of my work these days is either volunteering (for the Cornell Daily Sun and political causes) or what a contractor would call “on spec” (benefit corporations and the history of environmental activism in the Adirondacks).

I am extremely fortunate and grateful to be an independent journalist, among many other things. This was an unusually good year, and that is what this post is about. It doesn’t get into politics until the last graf, where I make a non-partisan suggestion about a specific action you might consider making in 2018.  Forewarned is forearmed.

Tania is ending her third year of “retirement,” and I think she has found the rhythm of it.  When she is not volunteering for historic preservation groups in Ithaca and Buffalo, she is often at the gym.  Here she is with her trainer, Ashley Fennell. Ashley is smart, funny, and able to dead lift 270 pounds.  I am encouraging Tania and Ashley to bench press each other, but so far they have declined.

Probably the biggest and happiest news of the year is Zoe Shea, who joined our family on October 21. Reader, she married him.  Here are Will and Zoe in New York’s City Hall, getting their license. Zoe is a sharp lawyer who likes to take down bad guys.  Will is Director of Analytics for Major League Baseball.  The consensus is that they are freakishly happy and well-matched. More on this later.


As the year began, Tania and I celebrated Orthodox Christmas at the Holy Trinity Cathedral and Seminary in Jordanville, NY, where Tania’s parents and grandparents are buried. It’s about as Russian as you can get without a passport.


Then in March, we stretched a Phoenix business trip to see my old pal Joel Garreau, eat real tacos,  and hike just before an historic “superbloom” that lit up the Sonoran Desert.  These shots are from Cave Creek Regional Park.

2017 was a year of parties, and we went to four memorable ones. The first happened in Austin, Texas in March, when our friends Jay Pulliam and Mara Pfund threw a barbecue for us, my mom and sister, and my niece Lindsay and her family. The biggest thrill for me was playing catch with Lindsay and Luis’s son, Escher.  Thanks, Jay and Mara!

Dyngus Day, the day after Easter in Buffalo, NY, will always make the short list.  It’s like St. Patrick’s Day for Polish-Americans. It features a wacky parade with people dressed up like perogies and other things, while on the sidelines a battle rages of squirt gun attackers facing defenders who wield pussywillow branches.   That party peaked when Brave Combo, the best punk-salsa-polka band in the land, tore the roof off the joint.

Deep Springs College’s Centennial party over July 4 weekend was another jaw-dropper.  We stretched it out with a three-night train trip west, which I hadn’t done in 30 years and Tania, incredibly, had never done.  Try Amtrak if you like staring out the window and making friends with strangers. If you’re over 40, pay for the sleeper.

The train let us off in Reno, where we were met by my old pal Nonie Holloway, who generously drove us to the College and even allowed us to stay in her tiny vintage 1947 tow-behind trailer.  Deep Springs has about 700 living alumni, and nearly one-third of them made the trek to the valley.  If you aren’t impressed by that, look at the map.  Thanks, Nonie!

I’m irrationally proud of an elaborate stunt I helped stage for Deep Springs’ opening ceremony.  Jonathan Kriess-Tompkins, a member of the Alaska State Assembly, surprised the crowd by appearing as the college’s founder, LL Nunn.  Mr. Nunn magically rose from his Glendale crypt to deliver a 10-minute comic speech. I wrote the speech and played Mr. Nunn’s chauffeur.  I know people often accuse me of making things up, but every word of the above paragraph is true.

When we got back from Deep Springs, we jumped on our bicycles and rode the Great Allegheny Passage, one of the country’s greatest rail-trails, 150 miles from Cumberland, MD to Pittsburgh, PA.  One of the highlights of the trip was the youth vegetable-fashion display at the Fayette County, PA Fair.

Our house-sitters during that trip were Anastya Alexsandrov and her son Geny, who had also come to visit us in February from their home in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Anastya’s husband, Kirill, who has a deep love for American cowboys, joined us when we returned.

Kirill is an historian at the University of St. Petersburg and a colleague of Tania’s late father, George.  He helped us sort and donate some of George’s Cyrillic-language papers on World War II history to the Hoover Institution.  We repaid him by renting a house on Cayuga Lake so they could bake in the sun for a few days before heading home.  St. Petersburg, Russia is many things, but warm and sunny are not two of them.

Our next big trip happened on September 9, when we circumnavigated Cayuga Lake in an annual fundraiser for the Southern Tier AIDS Program.  It’s a 105-mile day, known in the cycling biz as a “century ride,” and Tania did it for only the second time in her life. All that gym time made it possible for us to tune out the physical complaints and focus on the incredible scenery.

This year’s AIDS rids was also the first-ever century ride for our old pal Henry Tepper, who drove over from Boston to spend the day with us, and who surprised himself by finishing strong enough to shower and eat a hearty dinner with 400 close friends before collapsing in our spare bedroom.  Hank is just one of several friends who we wish were our neighbors.  Hey, maybe we should work on that.

In late September, Emma got a rare stretch of time off while Pan did not, so I strapped the canoe to the car and met her in Albany.  We camped on the islands of Indian Lake, NY for three nights.

Then it was time to prepare, worry, dress, and write a toast for the event of the year – Will and Zoe’s wedding on October 21st in Lake Placid, NY.  I had never married off a child before, so I was unprepared for the emotional wallop, and I went through most of the weekend in happy disbelief.  “Amazing” is a word that needs a vacation, but it truly describes my feelings of wonder and gratitude for this union and the families who celebrated it.  Tania and I went home and slept for three days, like cats after they get home from the veterinarian.

Oct: 21: Emma and Pan, Lake Placid
Oct: 21: Sara Hess, Jeff Furman
Oct. 21: Katelyn, Nolan, Mike, and Jennifer Edmondson





Nov: Tod, Brian, Mary, Nancy, and Meredith Edmondson

In November, we managed to get in a trip to Florida to see my mother and two siblings.  Brian and Nancy hosted our mom, cousin Tod, and Aunt Mary for a dinner that also could have been a shareholders’ meeting of Edmondson Farms Inc., but we didn’t talk business.  Mostly we sat around and told jokes, which is what Edmondsons do.


A few weeks earlier, I covered a rally for The Poor People’s Campaign, which is reviving the movement Martin Luther King was organizing when he was killed 50 years ago.  The Rev. William Barber (pictured here) gave a speech there that turned me from standby to convert.  Councils in two dozen states are preparing to coordinate forty days of big, non-violent protests that will start on Mother’s Day, 2018.  Most of the organizers come from churches.  They aim to go beyond partisan politics and start a “moral revival.” If that sounds good to you, please learn more and sign up here.

Nov: Venice, FL

OK, thanks for listening. Let’s go back to one of the happiest places I know — my brother Brian’s yard.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everybody!  -Brad

2017 AIDS Ride For Life

Your donations helped raise nearly $200,000 for the Southern Tier AIDS Program on Saturday!  In this year’s AIDS Ride For Life, Tania and I rode around Cayuga Lake with our friend Henry Tepper.  We did the whole 105 miles.  Click on the top photo to start the slideshow with captions, and THANKS for your donation.


Brad &Tania’s 2016 In Pictures

IMG_2235A year ago, Tania and I were enjoying boiled peanuts while delivering a free Cadillac to my mom in Florida. Things got even weirder and (often) more wonderful in 2016.  Sometimes it got so exciting that I took pictures.

Click on the first photo to start the slide show. Order is left to right, top to bottom.

Two Sides of the System: Clifford Garvin and Bernard Sanders

By Brad Edmondson/ Originally published in the Ithaca Times on October 21, 1982

Diverse points of view are commonplace at Cornell, but last week a particularly interesting juxtaposition took place. On Thursday the 14th, Clifford Garvin, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Exxon, spent the day on campus, doing conferences with the press, classes with students, and meetings with university brass. That afternoon, Bernard Sanders, socialist mayor of Burlington, Vermont (one of only two socialist mayors in the U.S. today), visited Cornell, gave a speech, and answered questions. His political aspirations, he freely admits, involve a “revolution in American consciousness” that would put Garvin and other top corporate managers out of a job.

Garvin was unaware of Sanders’s presence. On campus as the University’s third Hatfield Fellow (a program that brings an upper echelon corporate executive to the campus each year), he had a busy day: breakfast and lunch with planned guests, two press conferences, five classroom appearances, a speech for the public, and a reception/dinner at the Johnson Art Museum before boarding a plane back to New York. Red carpet treatment. But certainly a low-rent visit for Sanders. Arriving by car from a speech in Canandaigua in the afternoon, he exchanged opinions with one reporter and some graduate students over coffee at the Green Dragon cafe in Sibley Hall, delivered his speech, took questions, and was on the road again three hours later with two take-out pizzas for his dinner.

Clifton_backgroundAt 8 am, Garvin held his first press conference before a dozing group of reporters. University officials escorted him in and out and stood by during the conference to make sure everything was polite. How did Garvin assess President Reagan’s performance so far? “We have a president who advocates something I believe in very strongly,” he responded. “That is laissez-faire government. I believe in that principle very strongly. If a fellow sees something that needs to be done, and he can figure out the most efficient way to do it, then he should be encouraged to do it.”

What was his assessment of the’ country’s current economic malaise? “I’m optimistic about the future,” he said. “I’m not optimistic about the short term, though. I think we’ll be experiencing a period of very slow growth for some time to come.”

How did Garvin respond to the frequent assertions that his company, which is the largest industrial organization in the world, is not doing enough to promote the growth of alternative forms of energy?

“Oil companies do take a long-term view of things.” he said, “but we have a responsibility to our shareholders to make the best returns on our investment. The difficult aspect of the energy business is that it takes a long time and a lot of planning to substitute energy sources.”

Garvin used the Colony shale oil project in Colorado, which was scrapped earlier this year by Exxon, as an example of the corporation’s policies toward alternative energy sources. “We had eight years and $6 billion invested in that plant,” he said. “And I believe that the time will come when the plant will be re-activated. But in the interest of our shareholders, we had to pull out because there was no potential for a return on our investment. It’s disturbing, in a way.”

In what way? Asked if the interests of Exxon stockholders always coincide with the interests of the public at large, Garvin indicated that they did not. Asked if the interests of Exxon stockholders must come first in every case, he indicated that they did.

”Our primary role must be to maintain our position as an efficient supplier of energy,” he explained. “I was disappointed when the Colony project had to be abandoned, but I still think it was the right decision. One company, acting alone, cannot make an uneconomic commitment, because one company cannot change the entire market all at once. If we had stayed involved in Colony, we could have lost our ability to survive in the market. And if we did that, we couldn’t do the country any good at all. I couldn’t come to make visits to Cornell, and there wouldn’t be any funds for research and development.

“But the side issue you’ve touched on is troublesome,” he continued. Explaining that a crucial element in the success of free enterprise is the presence of open competition, he said, “If you become dissatisfied with the performance of an oil company, you’re sort of stuck because there aren’t any alternatives readily available. Oil companies must be structured on a large scale, and along similar lines, to survive. Your only alternative would be to do without them. Now, there are those who say you can get along without oil companies, of course—thank goodness there aren’t many of them, and thank goodness they’re wrong.”

A contradiction became apparent in Garvin’s statements. A champion of free enterprise, he nevertheless indicated that the free market, with its relentless emphasis on maximum return to its shareholders, does not allow oil companies like Exxon to plan for the future by developing alternative sources such as the Colony plant. Did this mean he saw government involvement in energy policy as legitimate? How far, in his estimation, could government involvement in corporate affairs legitimately go?

“You’re doing a lot of extrapolation from my comments,” Garvin said. “What I indicated was troubling was the synthetics question, and the fact that we spent eight years developing a pilot plant for an alternative energy source and then we had to scrap it to stay alive in the market. The troublesome point is that if someone pulled the plug in the Middle East, a laissez-faire economic situation might not allow us to develop alternative energy sources in advance, or quick enough, to avert a national crisis.

“That doesn’t at all suggest that I think government is entitled to regulate oil or any other business. There is an aspect of government involvement, from a standpoint of national security, and I think the government ought to have a role in matters of preserving national interest, in the matter of having enough oil.

“I have mixed emotions on this. I’ve explained the problem. I’m chagrined that our own solution didn’t work, that we couldn’t afford to develop an oil shale plant. But I draw up short of recommending that the government go out and spend millions of taxpayer dollars on a bunch of inefficient facilities. So I’ve got a dilemma. I’ll be very candid with you. Smarter people than me are wrestling with it.”

Bernard’s Retort

“It’s very clear to me, it’s no dilemma,” Bernard Sanders said in the Green Dragon. “The concentration of oil companies, and the way they get out of each other’s way and stake out their turf, makes any argument based on competition absurd. The oil companies cannot do what’s in the country’s best interest as long as they are dedicated to quick profits. There’s no doubt in my mind that they must be nationalized. Government should be motivated to provide the cheapest, safest form of energy for its citizens, instead of a private corporation being motivated by profits to sell energy for what the market will bear.

“But to me, there is no solution to the oil industry without a solution that goes to the root of our government and our culture. What you have to talk about is a change in consciousness in the American people which will cause our resources to be managed for everyone’s benefit, instead of the benefit of Clifford Garvin and his friends.”

Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington on March 4, 1981 by what he calls a “landslide margin” of ten votes. “The fact that I could beat the Republicans and Democrats simply infuriated them,” he said. “And the people who ran against me continue to be upset. They’re very upset that I can come to Cornell and state that I am the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, because that statement lends legitimacy to my views.”

A former social activist and labor organizer from Brooklyn, Sanders knew virtually nothing about the day-to-day aspects of city management when he took the job. “The feeling I had right after being elected was something like the feeling of being a new parent,” he said. “Intellectually, I was prepared, but emotionally I was very surprised. It’s one thing to think about being mayor, or think about having a kid, and it’s quite another to run a city or change your kid’s diapers.”

Sanders reacted by surrounding himself with bright young advisors and administrators, and the result was an influx of new ideas that have succeeded in making Burlington’s government more cost effective. “The Republicrat administrations were acting just like a big corporation,” he explained. “They were sluggish, without motivation or ideas. We had the good fortune to inherit that moribund system and revamp it, using plain common sense.” Such non-radical tactics as opening up the city’s insurance to competitive bidding, changing the phone system, and centralizing buying procedures resulted in substantial savings.

“The press had a lot of fun with that angle,” Sanders said. “You know, ‘free enterprise used by socialist mayor to save money.’ But I was elected, first and foremost, to be an efficient manager and to cut waste when I found it. To me, that meant searching for the best deals available. Those decisions weren’t political ideology, they were common sense.

“But those decisions had an important side benefit. By saving money, we have placated a lot of traditionally minded people in town. Socialism hasn’t got such a ‘dirty word’ label to them any more.

“Right now, we’re running the city better than any administration has for the last ten years,” he continued. “But then we’ll go out and do things no city government does, like Worker’s Pride Week, or the stands I take on national and international issues. We can point to our management record as an answer to those people who say, ‘We didn’t elect you to talk about El Salvador.'” And his tactics seem to be working. In this year’s elections, Sanders supporters (“Sanderistas”) gained three more seats on the city council.

Sanders’s Speech

Sanders spoke before 100 students in Goldwin Smith Hall later that afternoon. In a speech primarily devoted to an explanation of general principles, he portrayed socialism as a system of beliefs that emphasizes cooperation over competition “for the sake of economic and human progress.” Extending the theme of cooperation to international relations, he expressed his belief in “the inevitable conflict between those who own and those who work. In our society, the bottom line is—and you don’t hear this very often, because our government spends tremendous amounts of money trying to cover it up—that owners have virtually all of the power over workers. If a worker is dissatisfied with an owner, his only recourse is to leave. But if he does that, he’s faced with the problem of finding money to buy food. What does democracy mean in such a society, where the majority of its citizns have so little control over the day-to-day aspects of their lives?”

Garvin’s Retort

As Sanders wound up his speech and began taking questions from the audience, Clifford Garvin was being introduced by Cornell President Frank Rhodes to a group of about 400 people in Uris Hall. Rhodes’ speech was full of praise for Exxon, which has made major contributions to Cornell’s writing program and its engineering school, and for Garvin, whom Rhodes said “exemplifies the broader social role demanded of the present-day executive.”

Garvin spoke on the present state of economic forecasting in America. Although disturbed by the theorists of “downward mobility,” these predictors of the future “who say that our standard of living will inevitably decline,” he said there are indications that technology will revitalize certain sectors of the economy. He cited a Rand Corporation study indicating that college graduates will begin to enjoy a “seller’s market” in jobs in about five years, and he stated his belief that individual incentive will continue to be rewarded in years to come. He also stopped frequently for jokes.

When Garvin concluded his comments and Rhodes called for questions, a young man stood up near the back of the auditorium.

“Mr. Garvin,” he said, “I’d like to ask you a question and I don’t know if you want to answer it, sir, but how much money do you make?”

‘That’s immaterial to this discussion,” Garvin answered. “I am amply rewarded for my efforts. Why do you want to know?”

“Because I have real questions about a system that allows you to make, I’m estimating, $500,000 a year, while the majority of Americans make less than one-twentieth of that amount.”

“If you want to know how much money I make, get some stock in Exxon and you’ll find out. Young man, are you a student here?”

“No sir, I’m an employee.”

“Well, it seems that you have some basic disagreements with the way we run things in this country. The point is whether you accept an economic system where people are rewarded based on what they contribute. If you’re so discontented with what we have here, then I would invite you to trot along to a few other countries and see how their systems work.” After the man sat down, Garvin added, “my hunch is that you didn’t get that raise you were looking for.”

The Mayor’s Conclusion

Back in Goldwin Smith Hall, Sanders asked: “Is it morally right for so many to have so little while so few have so much? Socialism doesn’t mean that everyone will be required to make exactly the same amount of money. What it does acknowledge is that it is not morally right to deny basic human needs like food, housing, and medical care to anyone.”

Near the end of his comments, he speculated on his chances for re-election in March of 1983. “We could lose,” he said. ”I’d say we have about a 50-50 chance. If the Republicans and Democrats combine to run one slate and try to defeat us, then we’d have trouble. But they would hate to do that. We’ve been saying that they’re really only one party for years now, and it would embarrass the hell out of them to be shown up for what they are.

“So I bring you good news from Burlington,” he concluded. “The good news is that the two-party system and the corporate establishment are not invincible. Their legitimacy is seriously compromised these days. The good news is that we’ve proven that they can be beaten. And the best news of all is that the people of Burlington saw something they called socialism, voted it in, lived with it for a year, and voted for more.”



Poor Boy’s Dream

IMG_2232 Wednesday, December 9, 2015: My mom got a Cadillac for Christmas this year. I didn’t give it to her—I only delivered it—and it isn’t really my kind of car, either. I drive a rusty Subaru Outback with a Bernie Sanders sticker on the back hatch. Whatever. Giving your mom a Cadillac is still every poor boy’s dream.

Elvis got his mom a Cadillac in 1955, just as he was hitting it big, even though she didn’t have a driver’s license. Last year, GM donated a pink Escalade to Terry Bridgewater to give to his mom, just after the Minnesota Vikings signed him. A Cadillac is a signal that you’ve finally made it. It’s more than money: it’ s class.

It was shaping up to be a low-key Christmas. My children are grown and have busy lives in Philadelphia and Manhattan. My daughter is a medical resident who works all the time. This was going to be the first year when everyone couldn’t make it home to Ithaca. So we agreed to meet and exchange gifts in a hotel on December 20, her nearest day off. December 25 was going to be a quiet day for two. Tania and I were kind of sad about it, what with the passage of time and all, but it also sounded kind of nice.

Then, 16 days before the big day, my sister called. Mom’s best friend lives just up the road from you, she said, and she wants to give mom a special present. It’s a white 2003 Cadillac DeVille and it’s in great condition, except for a glitch that keeps it from passing inspection in New York.

My mom lives in Florida, and there’s no vehicle inspection law down here, my sister said. Mom’s friend has already bought herself a nice new black Caddy. She really wants to do this, but she needs a driver. We could give mom the surprise of her life. And the car’s registration expires on December 25.

My mother is 82. She used to run a farm and still drives a big diesel pickup, but now she’s having problems climbing in and out of it. It was a long fly ball to deep left field, and I knew I had to catch it. So I cleared the calendar and asked Tania.

A woman I don’t really know wants us to drive a car with 100,000 miles it to Florida a few days before Christmas, I said. My mom doesn’t know we’re coming or that she’s getting the car as a present, but I’m pretty sure she’ll love it. Let’s go for it! What could possibly go wrong?

Tania immediately thought of several major things that could go wrong, but she said she was willing to go with me anyway. This is one of her many good qualities.

Thursday, December 17: We arranged to meet the friend at the mechanic’s shop, where she was having the car cleared for takeoff. I had only met her once, but as soon as I saw her we embraced. Wow, she said. I’m so excited about giving this car to your mom. I love her to pieces, and I know she needs something easier to drive. Christmas is pretty quiet for us now, so this Cadillac caper is the high point for me.

I know, I said, me too. I’m jumping out of my skin about this. She and I were grinning and bouncing around like kids. And Tania was clearly getting into it, too.

We waved goodbye, and Tania got behind the wheel of the rusty Subaru. I got into the Caddy, adjusted the mirrors, and put it in drive.

Wow. THANKS. What a car! It’s heavy, powerful, and stable. It cruises quietly enough to let you enjoy low-volume music or have a normal-volume conversation. The seat feels a lot like first class on an airline. There are all kinds of little knobs and doohickeys that do helpful things. When you hit a bump, it rocks up and down gently, like a good-sized boat going through a wake. And when you get a clear stretch of road and put the accelerator all the way down, it leaps forward with the sensation of rising, like a powerboat skating over a calm sea. I realized that we were about to take a long cruise on a Christmas yacht.

In no time flat, Tania and I were back home, working and packing and not quite believing that this was actually going to happen. We did the annual Christmas preparations over the next two days, except this time everything we did had to fit into the car. I was surprised to find that there always seemed to be room for more.

Saturday-Tuesday, December 19-22: How times have changed. Christmas with the children was shoehorned into 24 hours and took place in restaurants and a hotel room. This could have happened twenty or even ten years ago, but back then it would have been because of some business assignment I had. Now Will and Emma are running around like their hair is on fire, and all I can do is marvel at the change. I’m proud of them, but also sorry for the things they are doing without, and I keep reminding them that this phase of their lives is only temporary.

We pointed the Caddy south around 2pm on Monday and pulled out into Interstate 95. This has to be the most boring road in the United States. The landscape is either industrial or, in the winter, bare reddish-brown trees against a slate sky. It has been 35 years since I moved away from Nokomis, so driving from the northeast to Florida on this road is a familiar ordeal. It’s easier now, thanks to several significant improvements since the old days: travel websites, an Iphone loaded with interesting music, NPR all the way down, a fun traveling companion, and of course, the Christmas yacht.

Priceline got us a deal on a nice room in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. We pulled in around 9:30pm after doing 378 miles. Slept hard. Got up the next morning and put in 472 miles in off-and-on rainstorms. It was work. The wet clay soil looks like whipped off-brand peanut butter, Tania said.

One thing you can do on I-95 these days is eat well, thanks to yelp.com. We had an outstanding lunch in Yemassee, South Carolina at an antique store that had a deli counter staffed by three extremely friendly women, Fletcher’s Finds and Finest. Then we beat it south to get to Gary Lee’s Meat Market in Brunswick, Georgia before they closed. We weren’t hungry, but this is the place to go for all kinds of barbeque, including homemade smoked sausage I planned to turn into gumbo for Christmas dinner, and the best Brunswick stew Tania has ever tasted.  She lives for Brunswick stew.

We crossed the Florida line at dusk, with about six hours to go. Mom wouldn’t be back from an errand until the next afternoon, my sister said, which gave us a couple of unplanned hours in the morning. So we found a place on Fernandina Beach, north of Jacksonville, ate take-out Brunswick stew in our room, slept even harder, and got up in time for a lazy walk on the beach.

IMG_2235(click on the photo to make it bigger) Wednesday, December 23: Another hard day, stopping only for boiled peanuts north of Starke, FL.  The car made it to Nokomis without a hitch and we got off the interstate just as dusk was falling. We wired a big bow to the hood ornament and drove into the driveway slowly. My sister was there, ensuring that mom suspected nothing.

IMG_2236It was everything we’d hoped it would be. Mom didn’t know I was coming, and she didn’t know about the car. The look on her face when she saw me was worth the trip.

Mom didn’t want her picture or her friend’s name pushed through the Google. In fact, she’d rather I didn’t post this at all.  Whatever.  Merry Christmas, mom, we love you.




AIDS Ride 2015: Wet, Not Upset

P1020835The 2015 AIDS Ride, my ninth and Tania’s seventh, was another emotional and physical rollercoaster. Every year we sign up with bright feelings of anticipation that turn to dread as the summer wears on.  We do a few determined training rides. The pitch increases as the precipitation forecasts come in. Then on the big day, we take to the familiar course and the bad feelings melt away because after all, riding a bicycle around Cayuga Lake isn’t all that hard.* At the end, we’re always treated to a big, warm celebration of this once-a-year community.

* Here Tania and I disagree, but I think it’s about as hard as a hike – a really long hike.

This year’s ride raised $201,500 for the fight against AIDS in the Southern Tier by the end of ride day (Saturday, September 12), with more coming in. Our two-person team, Cats of Short Street, raised $1,100.  We are among the slowest riders in the pack, but just like the hard-bodies, we turned a few pounds of flab into muscle, received valuable bragging rights, got soaked clean through, and visited the familiar landmarks one more time. If the key to successful aging is forming healthy habits — in other words, becoming addicted to things that are good for you — the Ride For Life is a great fix.

The opening ceremony starts around sunrise. It’s a half-hour of thanks and heartfelt mission messages with a celestial backdrop (see top photo).  This year the riders were impatient because the weather forecast said that showers were likely by mid-morning, with steady rain later in the day, so the further you ride before 9 am, the less rain you’d endure.

We set off at 7am and climbed two large hills heading north on Route 34B. The first hill ends at the southern border of Lansing and the second, more serious one is a big down-and-up number formed by the drainage of Salmon Creek.  At the top of the second rise, at a North Lansing roadhouse called The Ridge, P1020841two women stood at their car and clapped and yelled encouragement at each rider (click on the photo to make it bigger).  These amateur cheerleaders are one of the best parts for me. A total stranger pops up at odd moments and makes you feel great for five seconds.  Couldn’t you use one of those right now?

The long downhills are another favorite of mine, and there’s P1020848a good one when you turn off Route 34B and coast down Center Road, just south of Genoa, to get to the first food stop at King Ferry Winery.  We pulled out of that stop at 8:40 am, 17 miles into an 90-mile ride, just as the first raindrops started to leak from the clouds.  It rained off and on, and increasingly on, for the rest of the day.  Fortunately, there was no wind and the temperature held steady in the mid-60s, so hypothermia was not an issue like it was last year*. But after you get used to wet socks and the spray on your face, a long ride in warm rain isn’t bad at all.

* Weather-wise, the 2014 ride was a monumentally awful day.

Of course, wet pavement is slicker.  As we turned back onto the highway (now Route 90), an ambulance sped past, siren blaring, and all the riders immediately knew what that meant.  A few miles later, we caught up with it just as they were loading a man onto a stretcher.  He had gone off the road into a deep ditch and was injured in the fall — but not seriously, we later learned. Maybe he shifted his weight and moved his handlebars in the wrong direction at the wrong time.  Bicycling is like driving, except it’s slower and you don’t wear a seat belt.

We cruised down Pumpkin Hill (hyper-alert) and through Aurora, then climbed past the huge faux new money temple of MacKenzie-Childs, past the site of Cayuga Castle, and into the second rest stop at Union Springs. I admired the headgear of P1020851Ned Buchman, who was on his 15th Ride.  Ned had bolted a stuffed killer whale to his helmet.  “Every year I choose a theme,” he said, “and this one seemed to work.”

Well done, Ned.  At the rest stop, he melted the hearts of the South Seneca High School women’s varsity soccer team P1020850enough that they asked him to pose for a group shot.  As we rode away, Tania reminded me that we forgot to put cat ears on our helmets.

North of Union Springs the ride gets flat as the lake gets shallower. The landmarks here are the P1020855large, permanent field signs of Upstate Citizens for Equality that say “No Sovereign Nation- No Reservation.”  Since 1980, the Cayuga Indian Nation has pursued a legal claim that the 64,000 acres bordering the north end of the lake are theirs and were taken from them illegally by treaties they signed in 1790s. Although the Indians are right in a legal sense, political wrangling P1020859and inter-Nation fighting have stalled their claim indefinitely.

We turned onto Route 20 and headed west, crossing the Cayuga Inlet bridge and the Montezuma marsh, dodging roadkill as a steady stream of cars and trucks tore by us.  Riding on the shoulder of a busy highway is something to be endured, and it was a relief four miles later when we turned onto Gravel Road (which is paved) and headed south at last. The lunch stop in Seneca Falls was beckoning.

The lunch stop is pleasant — maybe too pleasant.  Old friends are there, and hot soup, and tasty sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies, and it’s warm and dry.  Last year we arrived at the lunch stop in a mildly hypothermic state and stayed for 90 minutes (so Tania could warm up).  This year, 15.  The ride works best if you treat it like a job.

Turning onto Route 89 South around 12:30, the sky was darker and the rain steadier.  We got another hero’s welcome at theP1020873 Toro Run Winery rest stop and I paused to take a picture of my favorite junk shop sign, but the rain made it important to concentrate on the road just as our growing fatigue made it harder — so after mile 70, I focused increasingly on scanning the pavement.

P1020874“I’ve eaten so much sweet stuff and drunk so much Gatorade that I feel sick,” Tania said, and I agreed.  “I need some real food.”  And just like that, at the last rest stop, cold pizza!  We each had a piece.  In any other context, it would have been pretty yukky.  But today, Tania said, “this is saving my life.”

P1020878We pulled out from the Bellwether Cider stop with 12 miles to go.  The weather was dark, and a lot of people were getting flat tires.  We were not, because we had a secret weapon — Mr. Tuffy tire liners, which are strips of Kevlar that go between the tube and the inside of the tire and virtually eliminate roadside flats.  Racers don’t like tire liners because they add a few ounces to the weight of the bike. But if you’re long-distance plodders P1020880like us, they come highly recommended.

We stopped to see my friend and fellow Salt Creek Show DJ Armin Heurich, who was fixing a flat for his friend Anna. Armin was enjoying his seventh or eighth 100-mile ride of the year, and he usually does the 100-mile lake ride in a P1020882little over five hours. Today he was supporting Anna, an Ithaca High School senior who belongs to the school’s Cycling Club, which he advises. She was finishing her first Century ride at about the same pace as ours (eight hours, 13 minutes of riding), and she looked great.

We got through another screaming downhill into Taughannock Falls State Park, with nine miles to go.  And then came the last hill, four miles from the finish line at Glenwood Heights.  This is the last real challenge of the trip. It’s about three-tenths of a mile, at a pretty good pitch, and it happens after a long day when your legs have lost all their snap.  You know you’re at the top when you see the sign for Terrence Flanigan’s P1020885Bam Bam Drum School.  Bam, indeed!

When we finished, we were surprised to see that we had posted one of our fastest times ever for the 90-mile course (see “ride like it’s a job,” above).  There was a party going on at Cass Park but also a hot shower waiting at our house downtown — no contest.  We cleaned up, took naps, and then went to P1020886the celebration dinner at Stewart Park, where 300 riders and guests whooped it up and devoured a big meal catered by local restuarant god Gregor Brous. Man, it was great.

The riders and their donors gave a huge boost to the Southern Tier AIDS Program‘s services and counseling for 479 HIV-positive people in Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Otsego, Tioga, and Tompkins Counties; outreach activities that reached 2,900 people with prevention instructions in the first quarter of 2015; a large syringe exchange program with an 84 percent return rate; and 238 meetings in the first quarter where a counselor sat down with someone at risk and let them know the facts.

Only about one-fifth of the HIV-positive people in the care of STAP are gay men.  About one-third of clients were infected because of heterosexual activity, and one-eighth because of intravenous drug use or sex with a user.  What AIDS P1020863patients almost always have in common is that they’re poor and facing a huge, complicated set of problems.  They don’t have much of a safety net, either, except for STAP, so the Ride for Life generates money desperately needed and well spent.  So thanks a lot to everyone who donated, and see you next year.