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.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Are We There Yet?*

*Somerset, PA Daily American
October 2, 2010
as "Destination and a Journey"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

In my youth, my father, on Saturday or Sunday afternoons, would pile us into the car and off we would go for a journey into the countryside. In the summer, we might visit a small town, or just drive to the airport to watch the planes take off and land. In the fall, we’d seek out the roadside stands where apples could be found, fresh picked and at the peak of taste and color. I will always remember the sweet taste of that fruit while watching the countryside flow past my window.

There were other times, other trips where we were governed by a destination, someplace we had to reach by a certain time. While I always found travel to be fun, I have to admit that having a destination took away some of the adventure.

At this point in my life, I understand that while travel is travel, there is a definitive difference between a destination and the journey.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Ride Versus the Destination*

*Pittsburgh, PA Post-Gazette
October 14, 2010
as "Pittsburgh Rides: Traveling or a Journey?"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Years ago, I was bitten by the motorcycle bug and over time, it has grown into a passion. My wife has ridden her own bike in the past, but her view is far more practical. It’s transportation, nothing more. She tolerates my fervent single-mindedness about the bike and the ride, instinctively understanding how fundamental it is to my enjoyment of life.

I’m all about the journey. When I go on a joyride, it’s almost never with a specific destination in mind. She, on the other hand, is driven by destinations. If we go for a ride, we must stop someplace and do something, otherwise, why go?. Lately, I’ve tried to anticipate that requirement, but rarely successfully.

One Saturday, a glorious early fall afternoon, we rolled out of Somerset bound for my favorite destination, “Who-Knows-Whereburgh.” I went south, heading in a vague way towards Western Maryland. As the tree-lined road flashed past, the idea crystallized in my brain to go to Deep Creek Lake.

My wife was quiescent during these ruminations, occupied with her romance novel. Yes. She reads while we ride, which is better than falling asleep, which she used to do with disturbing regularity. When I felt the hard thump of her helmet between my shoulder blades, I put one hand on the bike, the other on her.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rio Lobo and the Legend of John Wayne

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

I’m not an artist, especially where movies are concerned. When I think back to the movies I’ve enjoyed over the years, I suppose you could opine that my preferences are decidedly chauvinistic; perhaps even traditional. And where my favorite actor is concerned, there’s only one that stands out.

John Wayne was more than an actor. He was an American archetype; a symbol, if you will, of what we were in the eyes of the world. For men, especially adolescent boys, he had that commanding presence we all secretly desire; the ability to silence a room simply by entering it. Many say he lacked the depth of Jimmy Stewart, or the savoir-faire of Clark Gable. But to this day, when I surf the satellite and run across one of his movies, that choice takes precedence over everything else.

People complain that Wayne’s characters were all cut from the same bolt of cloth, so similar in personality, presence, and portrayal. I don’t think that’s necessarily so. His Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit” was unique, as was his role as Sergeant Striker in “The Sands of Iwo Jima.” Wayne once explained the genesis for his characters. In his young days as a strong-backed set worker on the early westerns, he met the legendary Wyatt Earp, who was working as a consultant to the directors. Wayne was deeply impressed by Earp, saying later that every character he ever created on screen was a reflection of the old lawman.

But even the bias I have for John Wayne doesn’t explain my inexplicable affection for one of the worst movies he ever made, “Rio Lobo.”

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Innings and Frames of Our Lives**

*Chicago Tribune
February 8, 2011
as "Remember to recall"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
February 19, 2011
as "Remember to recall"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
(Except for Bob Seger lyrics)

Bob Seger’s song, “Like a Rock,” is an anthem for middle-aged men. In the last verse, he sings:

“Twenty Years…where’d they go?
Twenty years…I just don’t know
I sit and I wonder sometimes
Where they’ve gone.”

There’s not a man anywhere in their 50’s or 60’s that hasn’t asked that most rhetorical of questions. But time is funny like that. Fun times flash by like summer lightning. Other times crawl by at the speed of a root canal. And then suddenly we wake up and discover that we’re old. I don’t really remember noticing the passage of my 20’s and 30’s. I did take note of my 40’s. And now in my 50’s, it’s hard not to think about it.

It’s funny in a way; the memories of those eras more often than not revolve around sports. In my early 20’s, I was a bowling fanatic. After years of consistent mediocrity, I had discovered something I was moderately good at. I carried a 180 average, bowling four nights a week.

Yes. I admit. I had no life.

Yet, it was in the Strike ‘n’ Spare that I met and fell hard for the girl who became my wife. The funny thing was that all her sisters met their husbands the same way. In a bowling alley. That is some clan. Once a month they have a family bowling league consisting of 32 5-person teams, all related. I just didn’t marry into a family; I married into a small country.

We continued bowling with our kids. Every Saturday morning, all of us went to the bowling center for Youth League, they as players, we as coaches. Even today, we go bowling together.

In my 30’s and 40’s, I turned to softball. Cheryl and I played nearly every year of the 14 we lived in Missouri. We also helped to coach our kids’ teams, furthering our family bonds.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Glory Days*

*Somerset Daily American
September 18, 2010
as "An Annual Love Affair with Autumn"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

September has arrived, and finally the heat, humidity, and haze has left the Laurel Highlands.  Over the weekend, Canada sent us our first mass of cool, dry air, presaging the best time of the year for riding in these mountains.

My favorite time of the year is that stretch of weeks from late September through early November.  Fall colors began to peek out here and there around the 4th week of September.  By mid-October, the season is usually in its full technicolor glory, the magnificent reds and golds against a sky of pure cobalt blue.

The Laurel Highlands is part of the Allegheny Range of the Appalachian Mountains.  Like most of the Appalachians, they are relatively low in elevation, less than 3,000 feet.  Unlike a lot of mountainous areas, the Laurels are covered in a rich population of leafy deciduous trees, rather than evergreen coniferous. Because of that, the hillsides at their peak can glow like the sun itself. 

There are dozens of roads that follow the hilly terrain, most gently curved, although you can find a few squigglies on the map.  There's no shortage of beautiful rides.  I've lived here six years, and I'm still not done.

Something marvelous happens inside on a fall ride.  The sky is crystal clear, the sun, angling towards the southern horizon, slants through the trees, giving the leaves a marvelous illumination.  The sunlight is warm but the air carries a refreshing coolness as it flows past.  Heat and humidity can make a summer ride uncomfortable, even laborious.  But for me, autumn is a time of new life.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

9/11: Remembering Together*

Members of Congress stand together in unity on September 11th, 2001
They spontaneously sang "God Bless America."

(This photo is on a lot of websites and I was unable to
track down the identity of the original photographer.)

*Somerset, PA Daily American
September 11, 2010
as "Remembering Together"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Nine years ago today, the world changed before our very eyes. Our delusion of safety and security had been toppled and shattered. In New York City, Arlington, Virginia, and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 2,977 lives were lost.

Terrorism, up till that day, had been something foreign; always occurring far away in countries with hard-to-pronounce names. Even the deaths of 168 people in Oklahoma City failed to shake our complacency.

We live in a different world now. We walk through our days, glancing over our shoulders. When we travel, we are subjected to scans, pokes and prods; our suitcases are opened and our personal possessions pawed through. Once, we would’ve called this an invasion of privacy. Now, we passively accept such measures as necessary.

And yet, not all the change was bad.

Monday, September 06, 2010

9/11: The Real Memorial*

A memorial to an act of courage and sacrifice takes shape
behind a flag borne of courage and sacrifice.

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
September 11, 2010
as "Our Finest Memorial Would Be National Unity"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

9/11 was a deeply profound moment in our history; an event that utterly changed the attitude, and outlook of some 350 million Americans. No single event in the last 20 years has been written and commented upon more.

Nine years later, we still pause on this day to remember. We do this because we paid too high a price to forget.

Some may scoff and say that the passage of years has softened the event’s recollection. But think about the day that Air Force One did its low-level photo pass over Manhattan with two F-16 fighter jets in escort. That the huge jetliner was cloaked in that familiar white and blue motif with the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA boldly printed on the side made no difference to those on the ground. Their immediate reaction was one of visceral horror and fear.

Clearly, we haven’t yet “moved on.”

Such events are deeply etched into the national memory. We regularly honor those anniversaries because deep inside, we know that freedom is our most valued possession, and there will always be those who desire to take it away. In the face of those attacks, our defense has always been successful. But while we celebrate victories, we will always remember the cost that was exacted.

While in the Navy during the 1980’s, I came to know some of the Pearl Harbor survivors. Though 45 years had passed, time had not dulled their emotions. They still shed tears over friends who died on that December 7th.

We can say that this is a different generation, one that doesn’t hold grudges. But regardless of what people might claim, I have seen enough of those passions to know that even on September 11, 2051 there will still be many who will pause; remember; and shed tears.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Weather and the Mystery of What's to Come*

*Somerset Daily American
September 25, 2010
as "One For the Muse of the Changing Seasons"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Weather is the perfect conversation starter. It is without a doubt the most commonly shared element of human existence. And it doesn’t matter from where you come from, or the state of your finances, you can always talk about the weather.

Last summer, the topic was mainly about wondering when summer was going to start. This summer, we’re wondering when it’s going to finally end. There were several days in August when I wished that I could tell summer, “All right. You made your point. Now move along.” And last winter, (except for the Steelers and the Penguins) the weather was about all we ever did talk about.

There are usually three parts to that conversation:
1. What it’s like today
2. What it was like yesterday
3. What’s tomorrow going to be like?

One of the things we always try to do is outguess the forecast, usually by identifying the current trend as a precursor (or omen) of what’s to come. Thoughts of chest-deep snow and bitter cold were far, far away this summer as we staggered through the unusual heat and humidity. It was almost like we were afraid to bring it up for fear of jinxing the upcoming winter.

I’ve heard folks state with folksy certainty that a hot summer means a cold, snowy winter. And yet, these same folks were telling me last summer that because June, July, and August were so mild, the winter was going to mild. The most reliable estimate came, not from traditional lore or climate models, but from the fur on wooly-worms, which was unusually heavy and dark last year. I had another fellow tell me (with appropriate solemnity) that he’d never seen beaver lodges as thick and heavily-built as they were prior to last winter.