The Cobb Park Crit

Yesterday was the Cobb Park Criterium in Kankakee. This is one of the closest bike races to Champaign-Urbana, so a lot of my Wild Card Cycling teammates participated. Unfortunately, I’ve been struggling with some knee pain the past two weeks. It finally seems to be getting better, but I definitely didn’t want to aggravate it by racing again too soon.

I still wanted to support the team so I went up to watch the category 4 race (the one I would have been riding). We had six guys in that race — Mark, Q., Chad, Thomas, Luke, and Nick. Earlier in the day Alexi, Scott, and Art rode in the cat 5 race, while Greg & Karl rode in the masters 50+ race. As with many other types of racing I’m much more accustomed to competing than spectating. I always forget how fun it is to watch friends race.

Mark jumps off the front

Chad in is first race with Wild Card

Just think how fast Luke would be without all that extra hair

Q. takes a flyer

Nick looked as cool as a cucumber the entire race

Thomas takes a flyer

One lap to go

Karl and Scott cheer on the team with one lap to go

I took a lot of photos of my friends (some of which can be seen here, or in the video below), as well as some video footage. I mounted my little Flip video camera to the hot shoe of my Canon 50D DSLR and captured video while I was taking pictures.

I planned to quickly throw together the video clips late last night and post it online. I thought it was kind of cool how the sound of my still camera’s shutter can be heard clicking in the video so I spliced in some of the still photos around the time they were taken. Once this was in place the video clearly needed a soundtrack, so I added the greatest cycling music from the greatest cycling movie (American Flyers). This took considerably more time. I finally finished around 2 a.m., but it was totally worth it.

If you can watch this without a huge smile on your face you clearly haven’t seen American Flyers enough times.

The Keytar

I was in 5th grade in the 1988. Sure, it was the late 80’s, but it was still the 80’s. MTV (which used to actually play music) was all the rage. The music was wild, the hair was wild, the clothes were wild, and even the musical instruments were wild. Nothing was quite as ridiculously excessive as a keytar.

A keytar is just what it sounds like, a cross between a keyboard and a guitar. More specifically, it is a keyboard, but it’s worn on a strap over your shoulder like a guitar. With a keytar in hand a keyboard player could look as cool as a guitarist (though clearly the keyboard player would never actually be as cool as the guitarist). Well, that was the idea at least.

I was channel surfing one day when I flipped past the Home Shopping Network. There on the screen was a beautiful red keytar, a Yamaha SHS-10. I had to have it. It was fairly reasonably priced. I don’t remember the exact number, but it was somewhere between $50-100, perhaps around $70. Regardless, I was a 5th grader and I didn’t have that kind of money. It was also a bit pricey for a random middle-of-the-year non-birthay non-Christmas gift from my parents, so it appeared as if all hope was lost.

Within a matter of days I was sitting in Mr. Gholson’s class at the end of the school day when the principal began some school-wide announcements over the intercom. The announcements were related to the school fundraiser we had just finished. As usual I had big plans to sell the more items than anyone else in the school, and as usual I didn’t. At the very end of the announcements the principal reminded all the students that everyone who sold at least one item had their names entered into a drawing to win $50 cold hard cash. It seems like I never win anything like this, so you can imagine my surprise when he read my name as the recipient of the $50. Jackpot.

With my $50 in hand I was able to convince my parents to use it to order the keytar for me from the Home Shopping Network. I loved that thing. It was so cool I even brought it in to school to show all my classmates what I bought with my $50 prize.

Keytar

I started numerous bands with my friends throughout middle school where I played the keytar (poorly). Someone else would beat some sticks on buckets or something because nobody had a drum set. Everyone else just kind of stood around because they didn’t have any instruments either. But they were my friends and they were in the band. We had big plans.

I didn’t know very many songs, so I usually just hit the Demo button and it played by itself. The demo song was Wham’s Last Christmas, though I had no idea what it was at the time. I don’t recall ever hearing that song until maybe seven or eight years ago, at which point I exclaimed THAT’S THE DEMO SONG FROM MY KEYTAR!

Keytar

The keytar has also has survived many years and many moves to different apartments and houses, much to the chagrin of my wife. I’ve tried to get rid of this thing, but it seems nobody I know seems to want it. I’m not sure why. This keytar is now considered vintage, and they’re going on eBay for hundreds of dollars. Now might be a good time to cash in. Who thinks I have the guts to go through with it?

The Reunion

Last weekend in Washington D.C. there was a reunion of former ASP summer staff members. I worked for the Appalachia Service Project during the summers of 1997-2000 while I was in college. Around 75 former staffers descended upon the nation’s capital (well, a number of them already live there) for festivities.

ASP Summer Staff 1998 (I’m the one in the bright yellow shirt)

After a 12 hour drive (and a one hour bike ride) I arrived at the Potter’s House bookstore and cafe for some live bluegrass music. As soon as I walked in I recognized four or five familiar friendly faces… and about 30 very unfamiliar ones. Has it been that long?

I scanned the store and noticed my former staffer Jill on the other side of the room. The way ASP works is there is a separate center in each of 20 or 25 counties throughout central Appalachia. Each center is run by four staffers. Jill & I worked together at the same center in the summer of 1999. Great, I thought, I’ll go say hello.

Jill & Rob in 1999

As I walked about half way across the room I took another look, then I stopped in my tracks. Wait a minute… that’s not Jill… is it? She looks like she hasn’t aged at all. My confusion was further compounded when she made eye contact with me and showed absolutely no sign of recognition. This was a person I worked with very closely for several months, what’s going on???

While I was standing there, not knowing what to do, Phoebe walked by and I asked her if that was Jill. No. It was Jill’s younger sister, who looks exactly like Jill, and who apparently also worked for ASP. Well, that solves that mystery. The real Jill was present at the banquet on Saturday night. We had a good chance to catch up a little. She is finishing up with medical school and getting married soon. ¬°Felicitaciones!

After the long drive and a few hours in the coffee house I was really ready for bed. Will works in D.C. for CEDC, a nonprofit that has dormitories, and he arranged for me (and a few others) to stay there fairly inexpensively. It was nice, and the price couldn’t be beat. I slept in a little Saturday morning before heading downtown to see the monuments.

In the afternoon, the event organizers planned a service project at the Capital Area Food Bank. Around 20 or so of us from ASP helped unbox bulk canned foods and reorganize and repackage them for distribution to individuals and food kitchens. It was a good time. I used the opportunity to get to know some of the younger people who were on staff in the years following me. Interestingly, a few of them already knew who I was. You get bonus points if you can guess how — The Rob Song.

After finishing up at the food bank I got ready and headed over to the banquet on the other side of town. During my cross town trip I encountered four roundabouts (traffic circles). Fantastic. Anyone who knows me knows that I love roundabouts. I believe they are the greatest traffic control device in existence. The problem is that D.C. has the worst roundabouts I’ve ever seen (in the U.S., Nicaragua, France, or Belgium). Typically, traffic entering the roundabout has to yield to traffic already in the roundabout, but traffic in the roundabout should keep moving. Not only did these D.C. roundabouts have stop lights (rather than yield signs) upon entering the circle, they also had stoplights inside the circle itself. ¬°Que terrible! So instead of none of the traffic stopping ever, all of the traffic stopped multiple times. This is how the first three roundabouts were. When I reached the fourth roundabout, it was normal (no stop lights, no stopping). Traffic moved so much more smoothly and safely through the fourth roundabout. I cannot possibly fathom why the first three were so messed up.

Once I got to the reunion banquet I saw many more familiar faces. There were a couple dozen people whose employment with ASP overlapped mine. One of the first people I saw was Ben, who immediately asked me “were you ever on stage during a Steve Jobs keynote?” That came out of nowhere. Yes, I was on stage during Steve Jobs’ 2005 WWDC keynote presentation. My boss (Theo) & I demonstrated Mathematica running on the just announced Intel based Mac computers. Ben watched the video of the keynote (here’s the relevant clip), recognized me, and remembered to ask me about it the next time he saw me (three years later). Funny.

Besides Jill, my only other former staffer (with whom I worked closely) at the reunion was Meryl (a.k.a. Marl, who was recently married). We too had a good chance to catch up with each other (though we didn’t get the chance to reenact our infamous, no holds barred wrestling matches).

Rob stuffs Meryl into a trash can in 2000

Meryl gets her revenge

Some poor, innocent bystander gets caught in the middle

The banquet was a really good time.

  • We ate Appalachian food (whatever that is).
  • We viewed a wonderful slideshow of old ASP photos.
  • A preselected representative of each decade (70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s) shared some of their fondest ASP memories. Michelle K. (from my decade, the 90’s) did an exceptional job.
  • We sang a few of the songs we used to sing on a daily basis while working for ASP. It was a little emotional.
  • There was an auction of memorabilia to benefit ASP. I ended up with a really neat framed photograph of a curvy mountain road. I like mountains.
  • There was a contest to guess the number of skittles in a jar. Michelle R. & I both guessed 1200, which was the closest to the actual count of 1106. For this we won the skittles, which she yielded to me. Fortunately, the rest of the group helped pare that number down a little before we left.

After the official reunion ended, the unofficial reunion moved to some bar in an extremely busy area of D.C. I should have planned a little better, but I didn’t, and I ended up driving there. I searched for 25 minutes to find a parking place and I ended up in the tightest spot in which I’ve ever parked (and remember Iris is a very small car).

We all got a little carried away chatting it up with old friends. I ended up getting back to my quarters at 3:30 am. I haven’t stayed up that late in many a year. Juech was planning to run the Cherry Blossom 10 mile race at 7:30 am on Sunday. I since found out that he did indeed finish… barely. It was still probably before I even woke up.

The Rob Song

I was 19 years old in the summer of 1998. I spent the previous summer working as a staff member for the Appalachia Service Project (ASP), a non-profit organization which provides free emergency home repair to low income families and individuals living in central Appalachia. I was beginning my second summer working for the project.

It begins with staff training. Roughly 80 college aged strangers gather to spend a couple weeks learning to run a (hopefully) successful 8 week summer program. We learned virtually all aspects of home construction and repair. We learned to operate and care for very large, very old, donated trucks and vans (the daily vehicle maintenance checklist was referred to as “garanimals“, due to the color coded dip sticks and caps painted by our mechanic). We learned how to work with high school aged volunteers (Vs) and their adult group leaders (GLs). We learned how to buy and manage massive amounts of construction supplies and food.

And we got to know each other. These 80 or so people would soon be separated into groups of 4 by the ASP summer program leaders (Admin). After training each group of 4 staffers would head out to a separate county in either Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, or Tennessee.

In those days it was customary for each person to do some sort of creative introduction to help the others summer staffers get to know them better. I was rather partial to music, so I wrote a song about myself. And the legend was born.

The verses were just descriptive statements I made up on the spot:

F        C
I'm 19 years old
    F         C
and I'm from Illinois
F       C
I go to school at the
Dm                G
University of Illinois

etc.

Clever how I rhymed Illinois with Illinois, huh. The chorus on the other hand was simple, catchy, memorable.

F          G
My name is Rob
C          Am
My name is Rob
F              G
For crying out loud
       C
My name is Rob

When I performed my introduction song, I was very surprised that by the end, when I had already sang the chorus a few times, other people started joining in. “My name is Rob, my name is Rob, for crying out loud my name is Rob…” It’s better with music. Trust me.

At the end of the summer, when the program had ended and we all gathered together again, people were still singing The Rob Song. The next summer I went back to work for ASP, and by popular request I sang The Rob Song for my introduction. During the school year and in the years since I graduated from college and got a job I still occasionally meet with my ASP friends, and they still talk about the song. People who have worked for ASP since then, whom I’ve never met, know me from hearing other people sing The Rob Song.

For crying out loud.