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, November 30, 2010

A Few Words of Peace

For those of you who are weak and heavily laden;
For those of you who consumed with worry, anger, and sadness;
For those of you who look to the world with dispair;
Know that you are never alone.

Isaiah 40: 28-31
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;
They will run and not grow weary,
They will walk and not be faint.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gettysburg, the Address, and the Why*

Re-enactors at Gettysburg, 2009
*Somerset, PA Daily American
December 11, 2010
as "Gettysburg, the Address, and the Why"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

November 19th is just a date to most. I’m sure that somewhere a birthday or anniversary was being celebrated. But for the rest of us, it was just another Friday, five days until Thanksgiving.

But on one November 19th, an event occurred that truly defined this nation.

July 1, 1863 was an uncommonly hot and humid summer day. In another time, it might have been a day to spend in the shade with a glass of lemonade. But on that morning, two great armies met at a crossroads village named Gettysburg.

Strategists call it “a meeting engagement,” a battle where the location itself wasn’t the thing contested.

It was a key battle, one that in large part determined the outcome of the Civil War.  Although the war would last two more tragic years, Gettysburg set both sides irrevocably on the road that ended at Appomattox Court House.

The Friends of Flight 93**

"That's What Friends are For"
(Written for the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat)
Published December 4, 2010*
as "Help Preserve the Legacy of Flight 93"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

The most elaborate memorial ever constructed
can only be an empty vessel
unless it is filled with meaning,
by those with aching hearts;
Those who will Never Forget.

For the most important message to the ages
Is not how a memorial was built, or where, or when;
But why.

Friendship is vital to life.  It provides meaning and purpose, and most importantly, support.  It is just as important to a cause as it is to people.

Near Shanksville, a dream is rapidly becoming a reality.  What was the subject of plans and paintings is now taking shape upon the land.  This long and sometimes rocky journey walked by people of vision and dedication will end on September 11, 2011.  On that day, the Flight 93 Memorial will come alive.

9/11 shook the world and rocked America to its very soul.  Almost 3,000 people fell that day, victims to an inconceivable act of violence and hatred.  But in the skies over the Laurel Highlands, a light broke the darkness.  Aboard United Airlines Flight 93, a group of people, strangers all, made a decision.  They stood together and fought back.  Their courageous actions saved perhaps hundreds of lives, and spared us from the visage of our nation’s capitol building, the symbol of our government, reduced to rubble.

In the nine and a half years since, the memory of that event has manifested itself in the structure rising out of a reclaimed strip mine.  When the first phase of that memorial is dedicated on the tenth anniversary of the attacks, many will feel that a finish line of sorts will have been crossed.

But for the Friends of Flight 93, the work is just beginning.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Pain of Ex-Patness

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

I grew up in Independence, Missouri; which is to say I grew up in Kansas City. The Metro is one of those places that seems so delightfully homogeneous that you could hail from anywhere in the bi-state 5-county area and call yourself a Kansas Citian. A big part of that sense of ownership is the sometimes painful relationship with area sports teams.

The heartbreak of Chiefdom and Royaldom haunts everyone on either side of the Missouri River, but because we still love them even when they lose (or because we have developed a rather disturbing psychosis) we still treat each new season with that same ill-fated optimism. This affliction becomes even more acute for those of us who worship from afar.

I left the KC area for good thirty years ago this year. Since then, I've planted my feet in 48 other states and 22 foreign countries. I've walked the streets of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo. I've motorcycled through the mountains of Colorado, the deserts of Arizona, and the forests of Pennsylvania. Yes, you could say I've lived an interesting life. Yet, for reasons I can't explain, nothing stirs my heart like the view of Arrowhead and Kaufman from the George Brett Freeway.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Warp Drive, Here We Come!

Image from CERN

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

In the northwest suburbs of Geneva, Switzerland lies a complex of buildings that constitute the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or the European Council for Nuclear Research. The rest of the world knows it as CERN. With a name change, it is now the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire, making the new acronym OERN, but try to get that one past Robert Langdon. There, some 10,000 scientists, engineers and support staff are busily digging for the elusive secrets of the universe.

Since its inception in 1954, the facility has logged an impressive number of discoveries, mostly incomprehensible to the rest of us. In fact, I would venture to say that the only reason most us recognize CERN is because of Dan Brown’s novel “Angels and Demons.”

On November 18, 2010, the institute announced a startling breakthrough. For the first time in human history, they had not only created anti-matter, but kept it in existence for a period of time.

For once, this is a discovery even I can understand.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Holidays, Wish Lists, and the Bonds of Family*

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
November 25, 2010
as "Thanks for What Really Matters"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Thanksgiving has rolled into our lives.  Right behind, Christmas approaches like a runaway truck.  This time of year, the days fly past.  The hours are filled by so much to do, so many plans to make, so many thoughts to think.

It still seems so weird to begin to think about Christmas already.  But this was a pattern established in our family when some of us have been overseas at different times, so the process of acquiring gifts and shipping them had to be done early.  Plus, these days looming just beyond Thanksgiving dinner, football, and the tryptophan coma is the shopping madness of Black Friday.

The email inbox is filling up with the lists containing the desires of kids, spouses, in-laws, and grandkids.  The lists are simpler this year, everyone mindful that my wife was laid off recently.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Saturday morning dawns spectacularly and the road beckons.   Full of anticipation, I gear up and head for the garage.  Starting the bike, however, I’m startled by a sound that shouldn’t be there.  

Worried, I head to the bike shop, where the service manager identifies the sound as the stator. But he assures me that I should be okay for the weekend.

Relieved, I hit the road.  My instincts tell me that it’s probably prudent to stay fairly close to home.  I’ve learned to listen to those voices.

I head west on PA31, turning south at Trent Road, then west on County Line Road.  I weave along through the woods, spotting Alpine-themed cabins along the road. This is one of my favorite local rides, a tunnel through dense and picturesque woodlands.   I love forests, and this is a road that feeds my soul.

I pull into the mini-mart at the Champion crossroads to peruse the map.  While so engaged, I become aware the engine, normally purring at idle, is laboring and beginning to chug. Then with a sudden gasping finality, it stops.

Stealing a Day from Winter*

*Somerset, PA Daily American
November 20, 2010
as "One More Chance for a Long Ride"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

A person’s experience with a motorcycle is less about ownership than about relationship. When you ride, something happens inside and no matter how hard you resist, the darn thing just gets under your skin.

Western Pennsylvania was recently blessed with a string of incredibly beautiful days for mid-November. Daytime highs in the 50s and 60s and abundant sunshine gifted local motorcyclists with one last riding splurge.

Last Thursday was a holiday, and after I did a few chores around the house, I geared up, mounted up, and headed out for a long ride.

I decided to head up PA56 northeast out of Johnstown. The day was perfect, with just a little bite to the wind. With the deciduous trees now mostly bare-branched, details of the terrain that had been hidden behind a blanket of leaves now were revealed. Isolated houses were visible within the trees.  Up to now, the only clue to their existence was the end of the gravel driveways that snaked out of the woods.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Airbags and Bikes

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Motorcycling is a dangerous pursuit.  Of this, nobody’s in disagreement.  Riders can try to protect themselves, but in that moment when a driver fails to yield and pulls in front of you, or a deer dashes out of the woods, there’s very little that a rider can do.

A lot of people, riders and safety advocates alike, have for years thought about that situation and felt that there had to be a way of providing better protection for the motorcycle rider and passenger in a frontal collision.  That diligent and daring thought process has now begun to produce.

In the last 15 years or so, a number of inventors and manufacturers have been developing wearable airbags.

The airbag was a new wrinkle when introduced into automobiles in 1973.  GM was the first to the marketplace with an airbag-equipped Olds Toronado.  Sensor-driven airbags had been part of the patent world since the 1950s, but until then nobody could come up with a system that inflated the bags fast enough.  Since then, perhaps tens of thousands of motorists owe their lives to that pillow erupting from their steering wheel.

While car airbags are proven technology, such devices for bikes have lagged behind.  This is primarily because of the differing dynamics between what happens inside a car/truck and what happens on the back of a motorcycle in a front-end collision.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Letter and the Spirit of the Law

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

The Kahuku High School football team will not be allowed to compete in the Oahu Interscholastic Association championship game, this despite going undefeated and ranking number one in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Island-wide poll.  One of their players was ruled ineligible, so the team, according to OIA rules, must forfeit the games the ineligible player participated in.  .

“Wot, boddah you?” you inevitably ask.  I live in Pennsylvania, fully 5,000 miles and at least two climatological planets distant from Hawai’i.  Even though my wife is Waipahu class of ’72, we admittedly don’t have a dog in this fight.  And yet, this story touches me.

I’m not a lawyer, although I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express.  But I’ve been around enough to understand that the application of law consists of two parts:  the letter and the spirit.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Honor Their Sacrifice; Remember*

*Somerset, PA Daily American
November 13, 2011
as "Standing Our Ground"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Shivering in the cold, the soldier grasps the steel of his musket.  Around him, his comrades hunch down in the boat as heavy wind-blown snow obscures their vision.  Slowly, their boat, along with many others, edges towards the New Jersey shore.  On the other side lies an encampment of Hessians, brutal barbarians known for their atrocities and their merciless treatment of captives.  The soldiers know that once they cross the Delaware on this cold night in 1776, the gates of hell await them.

A September morning in 1813 on Lake Erie is suddenly torn by the roar of combat.  American sailors man their posts while cannonballs tear into their ship.  The HMS Detroit, attempting to break through to Amherstburg, rakes the Americans with its longer-range guns.  The American crew bravely withstands the heavy fire for 20 long minutes until the USS Lawrence finally closes the range sufficiently to fight back.

South of Gettysburg, soldiers from Minnesota are rushed to the crest of a hill to meet an attack of 2,000 Rebels.  If the Confederates take this ridge, the Union loses the battle and perhaps, the war.   After a ferocious fight, the Minnesotans hold the ridge.   Of the original 262 soldiers, only 47 survive.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Memories and the End of the Season

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

The air has turned cold. Outside, the winds have a bite to them and even when standing in the sunshine, its warmth is barely felt. In the mornings, frost lies sparkling on the fallen leaves. It is a time of transition, when the warmth of summer and the comfortable cool of fall are behind us. Ahead lie long months of cold and snow.

For motorcyclists, it is time to place our bikes in hibernation.

For me, it’s also a time to look back on the riding season, replaying the memorable rides and savoring them one last time.

The first step is to give the bike a good cleaning. This removes any gunk I missed during the summer. It also makes it easier to note any leaks that may develop over the winter. It’s too cold to use water, so I’m left with a can of spray cleaner, a Q-tip, and a pile of old t-shirts.

Its always with great anticipation that I await the end of snow (usually mid-May here in the mountains). The winter of 2009-10 was particularly difficult. Here in Somerset, we logged fourteen-and-a-half feet of snow for the season. So when the last of the lake-effect streamers died and the temperatures rebounded, I joyfully trekked to Cernic’s where my bike spent a warm and dry, if lonely, winter. The sun was shining gloriously, the sky a soft blue. A few good days of rain had washed away the salt and sand. Brian, the Service Manager, had everything ready. The spring maintenance was done, and gleaming and lovely beyond words, it beckoned impatiently.

I punched the starter. The engine caught immediately, its throaty rumble filling the air. It was music to my ears, too long unheard.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Veteran's Day*

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
November 11, 2010
as "Remember to Thank a Veteran Today"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

But the freedom that they fought for,
and the country grand they wrought for,
Is their monument to-day.
~Thomas Dunn English

I see him on the sidewalk, his gait slow and uneven. His back is bent; his hands gnarled by arthritis and time. His face is wrinkled, the nose veined and crooked. But on his head he wears with great pride a blue ballcap. Emblazoned in gold on the front are the words, “U.S. Navy Veteran.”

I see him on his motorcycle. His beard, once richly black, is streaked with grey, as is the longish hair on the back of his head. He doesn’t say much, but in his eyes, I see the memories; days and places, faces and names. He, too wears a ballcap. Along with the globe-and-anchor of the Marine Corps are the words, “Vietnam Veteran.”

A young man jogs past, finishing his run. From the perspective of my years, he’s just a kid. His muscles are taut, his face smooth and unlined under the short-cropped hair. As I pass by, our eyes meet. Young though his body may be, his eyes have seen far too much for his years. As he strips off his sweatshirt, I understand. On his green t-shirt are the words, “3rd Infantry Division. Iraq.”

They walk among us every day, the old and grizzled, the young and quiet. They are mostly invisible to us, except for those ballcaps. Yet, our country is safe and our freedoms are intact because of them.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Few, The Proud, The Voters*

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
November 7, 2010
as "In America, Voting is More Than a Right"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Americans squawk constantly about how the politically powerful control our lives. And yet, on Election Day, the candidates defer to us. All day, they huddle around televisions and exit pollers, desperate for any clue about our decision. Outwardly confident, but nervous inside.

That’s the way it should be.

This is a representative republic, operating under broadly democratic principles. In our system, the ultimate power lies not in the capitals and the legislatures. It lies not in special interest groups or PACS. The most powerful element of the American political system is the voter.

You and me.

Voting booths are the front lines of the Constitution. As long as we retain the right to vote, we retain power over our government. It is why the one thing that angers us the most is election fraud or disenfranchisement. We know that someone who steals a person’s vote has also stolen a piece of freedom from us all.