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.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Farewell to the Laurel Highlands**

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Somerset, PA Daily American
October 29, 2011
as "Farewell Somerset County

*Johnstown, PA  Tribune-Democrat
October 30, 2011
as "Farewell, my friends; a new chapter is beginning"

If there is one constant in the universe, it’s that change is the only constant.  If you watch the night skies long enough, even the universe changes.

Human life is fluid and dynamic; never static.  We seek stability; the comfort of routine and familiarity.  But like a hungry predator, change lurks; crouched and ready to spring when we least expect it.  I’ve been its prey many times.  But then I’ve always been drawn to the far horizon.  I’ve never “put down roots” no matter how inviting the soil.  For me, there was always another place to go, another life to live.  But for the last seven years, this place has been my home.

The exigencies of politics in a city 3 hours distant ignited a chain of events that has once again set loose the predator.  In a few days, I will leave this place for another.  A page has turned; a chapter has closed.  

Seven years ago, Cheryl and I left Missouri and came here.  I’d never been to Pennsylvania before and really didn’t know what to expect.  There were only three things I knew about the Keystone State:  The Steelers, Willie Stargell, and Ben Franklin.

In the years since, I’ve come to love this place.  The natural beauty of the Laurel Highlands in all its moods, from high summer to the depths of winter, touched the poet
within me.  I found solace in the cool of the forests and the streams that murmured their secrets as I walked along their banks.  With my motorcycle, I found thrills in the winding mountain roads tracing landscapes vibrant with life. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Why "Change" and "Pain" Rhyme

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

It is so seductive to float through life on the calm seas of predictable routine.  It’s a comfortable, if somewhat tedious existence.  But the alternative means enduring upheaval and uncertainty, not the kind of excitement we generally seek in our lives. In the novel “Andromeda Strain,” author Michael Crichton quotes Lewis Bornheim, who defines a crisis as “a situation in which a previously tolerable set of circumstances is suddenly, by the addition of another factor, rendered wholly intolerable.”  Now that’s a lot of long words from a guy I’m pretty sure is fictional, since the only references I can find for “Lewis Bornheim” is that quote from the novel.  But let me put it to you this way.
An afternoon drive in the country becomes a crisis when the engine quits.  Dinner preparations become a crisis when the oven stops working.  A Super Bowl party becomes a crisis when the flat screen dies.  Work on a paper or a project becomes a crisis when the blue screen of death appears on the computer monitor.
In my case, the even tenor of life was thrown into chaos when I was informed that I was being transferred to another state.  Granted, this was something I desperately wanted to happen, but I discovered that there is a huge difference between wanting something, and actually getting it.
My new employers are making this process as easy as they can, but there is still a mountain of work for me to accomplish and not a lot of time to get it done.
The first priority has been to prepare the house for the real estate market.  These days, that’s a scary leap into some very troubled waters.  Home values have plummeted.  At one time the concern was to gain as much equity as possible in the sale.  Now homeowners desperately hope that the offers will at least clear the mortgage.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sitcom's Biggest Bang

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

It was a slow evening.  Cheryl had gone out for the evening with one of her friends and I had found myself in the classic squeeze of entertainment poverty.  Out of some 200 available channels on crystal clear digital satellite television, there wasn’t a single thing worth watching.  I had long ago exhausted my prurient fascination with reality shows.  The games on the Connecticut sports channel’s family were either blowouts or involved teams I didn’t care about.  Even the old standby, Law & Order, was an episode I had seen enough times to have the dialogue committed to memory.  Of all the science-oriented channels there wasn’t a single one running a program on planetary apocalypse.  My evening just isn’t complete without an image of a giant asteroid crashing into Cleveland, a deadly gamma ray burst, a super volcano eruption, or a magnitude 15 earthquake.  Or at least the computer-generated recreation of same.   Normally this would be a night I would pull out the Godfather and watch that classic of American cinema.  But Cheryl would not be gone long enough to watch even one of the three movies, and she and I have a long-standing agreement that I can only watch those movies when she’s not there.  Being a man of honor, I chose to leave Marlon and the boys in their sleeves.
Wandering over to TBS, I saw they were running back-to-back-to-back episodes of the comedy show “The Big Bang Theory.”  I had heard of this show, but hadn’t ever watched it, for several reasons.  First of all, sitcoms generally bore me to tears.  The scripts are predictable, the humor contrived and uncreative, being overly dependent on bodily functions.  Besides, they never featured crashing asteroids.  The last TV series I watched regularly was Gilmore Girls.  The writing featured the creative fast-paced bang-bang type of humor I fell in love with during the early years of “Moonlighting.”  So having nothing to do, and the balance of the evening to do it in, I decided to tune in.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Becoming Grampa and Gramma

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
There are three distinct “highs” in the life of most adults.  There’s marriage, when you commit yourself, body and soul, toanother person for the rest of your life.  Then there’s the moment when you become parents.  There’s simply not another moment like the one when you hold a tiny infant in your arms for the first time and come face to face with the shocking realization that you are now a parent.  The sense of delight and wonder is balanced by the awesome responsibility you feel for the life of another human.
What follows are a couple of decades of barely-managed chaos and insanity as you strive to give to the world a hard-working contributing member of society.  Or, failing that, at least getting them to adulthood alive and without a rap sheet.  But eventually, they do grow to the point where they can stand on their own two feet.  As you watch them fly from the nest, there is a bit of a letdown.  The one thing that has been the purpose in your life is gone. 
What follows is a succession of days, weeks, and months you find out is that there’s no hobby, no career, no avocation that carries with it the same ecstatic highs, devastating lows, and meaning as raising children.
The hardest thing is that creeping sense that they don’t need you anymore.  The whole reason why you struggled through those child-rearing years was to make them independent.  But as time goes by and the phone stops ringing, and the frequency of mail falls off, it’s a hard feeling to shake.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Sojourn: A Guide for Motocycle Trips

Two views of my old PC800 loaded for long distance, above, in Bisbee, Arizona..

...and Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
(Both images scanned from photographs)

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

In the past, vacation trips were rarely about a particular destination.  They were rather about the trip itself and the many stops along the way.  It was that philosophy that sent Americans out on legendary highways such as Route 66, Route 50, US 1, and California 1, the famed Pacific Coast Highway.  If you left Chicago on Route 66 heading west, you weren’t just traveling to the Santa Monica Pier in California.  You were going to see St. Louis; cowboys between Tulsa and Amarillo; the high plains of Tucumcari, Albuquerque, and Gallup; The deserts and mountains of Holbrook, Flagstaff, Kingman, and Barstow, and then, and only then, the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean.  The point of the trip was not to dabble your toes in the surf, but all the natural beauty and wonder of the American west.

People don’t travel like that anymore.  Most have a single destination in mind, minimize the travel time to that place, and then rack and stack everything you want (or feel obligated) to do into those few days.  That kind of a killer schedule has led to the oft-voiced phrase, “I need a vacation from my vacation.”

However, that old spirit of adventure hasn’t vanished entirely.  Within the motorcycle community it lives and breathes in the hearts of sojourners who have never forgotten the power of a journey.

I’ve taken a few long trips, all of which still live in vivid recollections.  While they were all fun and adventurous, there were those things I planned well, those I didn’t, and other details I never thought about.  Hopefully there is some value in those experiences that will assist others in planning trips.

Planning the trip