About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Monday, June 30, 2008

Today, as History*


Four Immortals: Gehrig, Speaker, Cobb, and Ruth.
(Unable to locate original attribution, probably the New York Times.)

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, July 6, 2008
*Glasgow, KY Daily Times, July 3, 2008
as "Today, as a moment in history"

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey

One of the limitations of perspective is our inability to recognized the passage of history. Over the weekend, my wife and I made a trip up to the Poconos to celebrate our 30th anniversary. This, of course, included the de rigueur trip to a casino for her, in this case the Mt. Airy facility near Mt. Pocono. While she was performing her usual brilliantly instinctive outwittery of the slot machines, I wandered around. I don’t gamble. The last lucky moment I had was the day I met her. As far is I’m concerned, she IS the jackpot. I’ll never be that lucky again.

In my wanderings, I happened across a spritely old man in a Yankees cap. I struck up a conversation with him about (what else?) baseball, although it wasn’t really much of a conversation. He yarned; I listened. Anyway, at one point, he talked about a magical day when his father took him to Yankee Stadium. He thinks it was 1927. He spoke of the thrill of watching his heroes, particularly Ruth and Gehrig, as they thoroughly thrashed their opponents, the Philadelphia A’s. On that magical day, he saw both men crank out enormous home runs and he talked about how he leapt from his seat, cheering lustily. He said, “I don’t have a really good memory for many things anymore (I’m 91, y’know) but I remember that day, and those home runs like it was 15 minutes ago.” He turned towards me, his eyes lighting up. “Y’know, Ty Cobb was in that game as well. He’d come over from Detroit. He was at the end of his career, but he was still a gladiator on the diamond.”

Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb.

Today, those names are mythic legends. For any baseball fan, the thought of being in the stands and seeing three players of that caliber on the same field on the same day enters the realm of daydreams.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Moto-Macho



Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey

Two years ago, I sold my motorcycle. For those who don’t ride, I’m not sure I can clearly convey the emotional trauma of such an event. The years and miles that unroll ‘neath man and machine really aren’t “ownership” as much as “relationship.” As riders know full well, you may own the machine, but the machine possesses you.

So, you ask, why sell? Well, the bike had 95,000 miles and, truthfully, I was ready for a new machine. The plan was to wait until winter had subsided, then “spring” for a new ride. Unfortunately, some high-priority expenses laid claim to the meager resources allocated for the bike.

The realization that I would be bike-less for the summer hit hard. For me, riding is not an exercise in transportation. It is an experience of the heart and soul; a spirit freed from the mundane to fly free from horizon to horizon. The roar of an engine is the siren song of the open road, the call of freedom…

Yeah, I know. Blah, blah, blah….

So I did what most men in my situation do: I moped. I became a skilled professional moper. If there had been an Olympic Moping team going to Beijing, I would have been its captain. Predictably, this drove my poor wife bananas. Last June, she took pity on me, and in one of her extremely rare moments of rash decision-making, she suggested that we rent a motorcycle and take a trip together.

What followed was a marvelous 6-day adventure on a Honda Goldwing (bells and whistles included) through the mountains and seashores New England. We had a great time, although I learned that it was far better to have the world’s most vociferous driving critic at an arm’s length, rather than draped across my back. (That helmet slap really gets your attention.) I was ecstatic, thinking this was the thing to put the bike purchase over the top.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Males, Middle Age, and Motorcycles*


Livin' Large! The Author at Deal's Gap.
Photo by Darryl Cannon, Powerhead Productions

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat April 29, 2008
as "The final frontier:
In midlife, a man's fancy turns to motorcycles"

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey

Spring is a wonderful time of year. The snow has finally gone, the sun is shining warm, and from the budding trees, we can hear the glorious sound of birds, the sounds of their songs reminding us how much they have been missed. If you listen carefully, you’ll also hear another sound of spring. The sound of a husband trying to convince his wife how much he needs a motorcycle.

There are obvious reasons. Economy, price, fun…but make no mistake; for the average middle aged American male, there is another motivation, the roots of which are buried deep within.

Middle-aged men are fighting a losing battle these days. In a society where feminists rage about equality and strength, we’re still called upon to deal with spiders, rodents, and strange noises in the night. We try to treat them with fairness and equality, only to get our heads torn off when we fail to open doors for them. Society denigrates the successful among us, then summarily equates our character with our job descriptions. (Think I’m exaggerating? Eavesdrop on a group of women sometime. When talking about men, one of the first two questions is always: “What does he do?”) Our culture, also obsessed with youth and the appearance of vitality, is ruthless in the effort to push us aside, out of sight. Even our points of view, borne out of decades of facing and defeating adversity, are dismissed as being out of step with the times.

Mainly though, it’s the age thing. We blossomed during the Woodstock era, when it was okay to lead with your glands and a sense of adventure. But then something terrible happened. We grew up. We had children. We acquired mortgages and responsibilities. We lost our hair. Now we find ourselves in our 50’s, squeezed out of the “wanna do’s” of life by the “have to do’s.” Everything hurts, especially in the morning. We find ourselves athletically outdone by the youngsters we used to “school” on the courts or in the fields. We begin to hear ourselves described as “that older guy.”

Monday, June 16, 2008

Deal's Gap*


"Yeah, baby!"
Photo by Darryl Cannon, Killboy.com; Powerhead Productions
*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 7/30/2006

Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Couey

One of the best known (and most notorious) motorcycle destinations in this country is Deal’s Gap, North Carolina, more specifically, the 11-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 129 known as “The Dragon.” This road traces the southwest border of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and consists of 318 curves in its tightly twisted length. It is considered by many to be the ultimate test of a street rider’s skill.

The Smoky Mountains, America’s most visited National Park, according to the National Park Service, is a scenic gem. Part of the central Appalachian chain, the Smokies stun the senses with beautiful mountains, dramatic overlooks, and dense cathedral-like forests. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Last of the Mohicans” with Daniel Day-Lewis, parts of which were filmed in the Park, than you know already about the abundant natural beauty to be found here. There aren’t a lot of resort or amusement park type properties in the region, but you can hike, bike, drive, canoe, raft, kayak, or indulge photographic passions to your heart’s content. The roads, although twisty to the extreme, are very well-cared for.

You can enter The Dragon at either end, but the “official” kickoff point is at the intersection of 129 and North Carolina route 28, the location of the Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort. This is not a luxury hotel, but simply a bare-bones place for the rider to sleep at night. The rooms are Spartan, but spacious, clean, and the owners have designed and developed services that cater to the motorcycle rider. For a more comfortable stay, there is the Fontana Village Resort, which is 11 miles away on NC Route 28.

The road itself is truly a challenge. Most of the 318 curves are of the hairpin and switchback variety, along with a few decreasing-radius turns that will take you by surprise. Although hundreds of riders navigate this road successfully, accidents do occur. The most common spill happens when a rider enters a curve too fast, or has their mind somewhere else. This is particularly bad for some cruisers, touring bikes and full-dressers, since their low profile severely limits the available lean angle. There are no shoulders to speak of, although there are a few gravel-covered pull-outs. If you find yourself in crisis corner, your options are usually limited to a sheer rock wall, or an unplanned tumble down a long, steep rock-and-tree-covered slope. At the Motorcycle resort is a monument to those who have been “bit by The Dragon” called “The Tree of Shame,” an otherwise unassuming Sycamore that has been liberally decorated with parts of motorcycles that failed to complete the route. You can always find a group of riders silently regarding the tree, a stark reminder that this is a serious road for serious riders.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Internet Remedies -- and One That Actually Worked



Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey


The Internet can be a tremendous resource, placing at our fingertips a flood of information from all types of authoritative sources. When I compare what I had to go through to research a term paper in the '70's to the ease of that same task today, I shake my head in wonder.

Of course, there's a lot of junk in with the gold, and you have to be very careful when assessing the accuracy of a potential source.

One of the common things you can find are alternatives to chemical-based cleaners, weeders, feeders, and many of the other common household and garden products we use. Which is where I found myself this past weekend deep in ponder.

The previous owners of our home performed a miracle of landscaping with the back yard. They put in a flower garden that circled the yard, along with a very attractive (and long) winding path made of paving stones. It was one of the major selling points for us, even when contemplating the enormous amount of work require to maintain it's zen-like qualities.

One of the labors required is to periodically remove the grass, weeds, and wildflowers that grow in the gaps between the stones. Up to now, that remedy has been applied through the use of a thin saw blade attached to a pole. The blade fits in the narrow spaces and is able to drill down deep enough to pull the offending plant up by the roots. Of course, this is a very time-consuming task, often taking an entire Saturday to accomplish. We've had a very wet and cool spring this year, followed by an oppressive period of hot and humid weather, with temps reaching close to the 90-degree range. (Please, no snickers from you Arizonans!) The combination of those two events brought an explosion of weed growth, the sheer ugliness of which I could ignore no longer.

Friday night, I was glumly anticipating my day in the heat and humidity. I thought briefly about using Roundup or some other commercially available weed-and-grass killer, but concern for my pets' health made that choice unacceptable.

Now, between my wife and I, I consider myself to be the more tech-savvy, so I was surprised when she suggested the obvious "check the internet" for alternatives.