The end of a racing season is one of the strangest, and sometimes most surreal, transitions you can go through, especially if your neck of the racing woods happens to be NHRA Drag Racing. Quite literally, you are standing there in the midst of the mayhem, mere feet away from a 10,000-hp Funny Car, excited and pumped to hopefully win a round and have a big day, and then in a single blink your day is over, your weekend is over, and your season is over. It's jarring, to say the least.
The sport, as a whole, is that way and I had a great time telling stories about that part of this gig on Saturday, when we hosted a fantastic group of people from Capella Technologies, in our pitside hospitality center. Capella was recently acquired by LRS, and since they are based in Anaheim, the LRS folks in Springfield thought it would be a neat deal for us to host them at the Auto Club Finals, as a way to welcome them all to the Levi, Ray & Shoup family, as well as the Team Wilkerson family. Not a single one of them had ever been to a race before, and I'm not sure I've ever had as much fun being the "host" and emcee in our pit area. I always do a bit of a "stand up" routine as part of my hosting duties, and it doesn't take long to get a sense as to whether you've got a "good crowd" or a "not so good crowd" on your hands, in terms of how engaged and attentive the people are and how much they're "into it" and want to be entertained.
You hear stand-up comedians talk about "good crowds" all the time, and I always thought that was just their way of deflecting the blame if they simply had a bad show and weren't funny one night. "Hey, I was hilarious but it was a bad crowd." Well, considering I'm uproariously hilarious in a knee-buckling, howling, fall-on-the-floor-laughing way each and every time I host guests in our pit (I am, right?) I can attest to the fact that each group is really slightly different and those differences change the dynamic of what I say and how I say it (not to mention the sheer amount of laughter I can create). Within seconds, after I pick up the microphone and say "Good afternoon, everybody" I can generally get a sense for how it's going to go.
To sum it up, the people from Capella were simply a great crowd. They were thrilled to be there, sorta stunned to be so close to the action, a little overwhelmed by everything going on around them, and practically giddy to see their logo on our quarter-panel. We had a GREAT time together, and I made a point of circulating afterward to talk to as many folks as I could, telling them how much we appreciated them being there and welcoming them to the family.
Anyway, the point of that was the part about how I was talking on the mic and I told them how drag racing is so starkly and radically different than other sports, in terms of how it goes and how abrupt it all is. I've won baseball championships and gotten to do the whole celebration in the middle of the infield after the final out, and that's unquestionably a very cool thing. However, it doesn't come close to what it feels like to win a Wally. In drag racing, you're never going to have a 10-run lead in the 9th, or two touchdown lead with 10 seconds to play. You don't have 150 more laps to make up for the mistake you just made. You can't just dial up your defense and clamp down on the other team. Instead, if you're good enough to win three rounds you go to the final and you have this thought… I have it every time. The car begins to stage and I think "Well, in about four seconds we're either going to be going nuts or we're going to be very disappointed. I wonder how this is going to turn out…" Four seconds later you know, and if it's the better option the release of emotion and excitement is at an absolute maximum. It's a thrill unlike any I've ever experienced in other sports.
The flip side, especially in the first round, is just as stark. There I was, standing behind the car with a huge (HUGE) Pomona crowd watching us, not knowing if we were going to sprint back to the pit to get ready for another round or if it would be over. When we smoked the tires, everything was over. The day was over, the race was over, and the season was over. It will give you whiplash…
I was on a very strange sleep cycle all weekend, falling asleep as early as 9:00 each night and waking up around 5:00, and I guess it was just because I've been "off my feet" and recovering for a while and I was really tired at the end of each day. Sunday night was similar, but there was a real empty feeling that came along with it. I was in my room, trying to wind down and relax, and it seemed like the clock was in slow motion. All I really wanted to do was go to bed and then wake up to discover it was Monday, but it took forever for 9:00 to get there.
When it did, I slept fitfully after four straight nights of sleeping like a brick. I woke up too early again, this time on the first day of the off-season, and was again faced with the similar challenge of just making the time go by so I could get on my 12:30 flight and head home. At that point, you just want to snap your fingers to make that happen, but travel isn't that easy. It was a long day before I walked in from the garage to find two fuzzy boyz waiting for me, at around 6:45 on Monday night. Thankfully, I was on the same ONT to SLC flight with Rich and Annette, so we could entertain ourselves in the gate area while we waited for that first leg (once we got to Salt Lake they went on to MSP to get home to Minnesota, while I got on the GEG flight to come back here to Spokane) and I had time in Salt Lake to have a pretty wonderful Cobb salad at one of the restaurants there, but it was still a long day of doing nothing. Sometimes, those are the worst kind of long days (see "rainy days" at the race track for a prime example of the agony induced by doing nothing for hours on end…)
And now it's officially the off-season. Tim and Krista went to the banquet last night, so they were still officially "on the clock" until that was over, but for me the 2013 season officially moved into the history books when I got home and unpacked last night. And I already have a ton of things to get right after this week, in terms of marketing and PR, so there's no rest for the weary, but there's also no race next weekend, or the weekend after that. There's no race until February.
Of course, because I don't get to travel enough I'm getting right back on a plane this Friday, to head back to Woodbury for the weekend. Barb was in New York the last two days, and is on her way to Toronto right now (and yes, she did text me "Shouldn't they be playing a Rush song on the plane, when we're headed for YYZ?") so we'll meet up in Woodbury at the end of the week for a massive dose of Minnesota pro sports. We're taking our friends Mary Beth and Joe to the Timberwolves game, against the Celtics, on Saturday night and then Neighbor Dave and Neighbor Nichol are joining us for the Minnesota Wild hockey game, against the Winnipeg Jets, on Sunday night. When I fly home Monday, I hope to have two wins under my belt, but neither one will be easy. Aw heck, it will be fun to be at the games with our best friends no matter what the final scores are, but winning is always a little better.
I guess I should shift into "rambling" mode here, for the final time this year. Right? Right!
The qualifying format in Pomona is unique, with the 1-1-2 set up on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and frankly I don't know any racer who likes that "one lap per day" deal for the first two days. Long days, without enough continuity or payback. So, we're all happy to see that Pomona will shift to a standard 2-2 format starting next year.
On Thursday night, Tim and I attended the Summit Racing Equipment ET Bracket Finals dinner at the NHRA Museum, and that event never fails to be a great time. The bracket racers who earn their way to Pomona, from all over the country, have overcome enormous odds and huge competition to do so, and it's really cool to let them have the spotlight for the night while the pro racers applaud them for the effort. There are also a lot of laughs, and some good food, so it's always a memorable affair.
Friday night was our annual dinner for our motley crew of team and sponsor PR reps, at Buca di Beppo not too far from the track. Anthony Vestal and the talented folks in the NHRA Media Relations Department host us for a big old hoedown of an Italian dinner (calories too enormous to track) and then they finish it off with giant platters of chocolate cake. For the record, my esteemed Ford PR colleague Lachelle Seymour (who has zero percent body fat) is a bit of a huge cake fan. Like, all throughout our wonderful dinner she just kept saying "Do I have to mention, again, that there's cake? Where's the cake?" When it arrived, we presented her with something close to 20 thick slices of decadent chocolate cake. Because there was cake. Cake. Did I mention there was cake?
We had our great friends Gerald Meux and his newly minted fiancé (no more calling her his "girlfriend") Kari Kieger with us, which means we ate very well all weekend. Those two are really fantastic, and they are a lot of fun to have with us. Kari is very big into shooting video with a couple of GoPro cameras, and she brought along the standard suction cup and extension pole accessories, to shoot various GoPro shots in different ways. On Sunday, Gerald and I kind of lost track of her when we went up for driver introductions, and I never did see Kari in the crowd gathered around the stage, but then Tim came through the sliding doors and I began to click off photos of him as he waved to the crowd. At that exact second, a GoPro camera on an extension pole rose up out of the crowd like a submarine periscope, right in my line of sight toward Tim. Found her! LOL. That was actually pretty funny. We looked all around for her and never saw Kari or her pink headphones, but then Tim came out on stage and the GoPro rose up out of the masses right in front of me. What are the odds?
Jim and Nancy Butler were there, as they were at so many races this year. We got to know Jim and Nancy a few years back when we simply noticed them being outside the ropes at more than a few races, and they sure seemed like friendly Illinois folks. They are friendly, and they are from Illinois, so over time we got to know them and now they're just about part of the family. You won't meet two nicer people…
My longtime blog reader turned longtime buddy, Scott Burris was there. That would be Scott The Pilot for those of you keeping score, also known as STP for short. He's back to flying the friendly skies for a commercial carrier (you can figure that one out) and is currently based out of LAX, so he came out for the day on Sunday and after our early exit we had lots of time to chat and catch up on everything. Considering STP has flown all the big jets, all around the world, he's always the target for a million questions when other people find out what he does, and his answers from "inside the cockpit" are always fascinating. Did you know that he used to fly Casey Powell's private jet, back when Casey's daughter drove in Top Fuel and Funny Car? That would be my dear friend Cristen Powell, one of the nicest people I know. STP also flew the big Kalitta Air 747s for a couple of years, circling the globe flying freight around for Connie…
The final warm-up of 2013. Harrumph...
All in all, it was a great weekend. Except for the part about smoking the tires in round one. And we'd had such a good and consistent qualifying effort, too… Hey, if it was easy everybody would be tuning a Funny Car.
My biggest thrill of the weekend? It was huge. On Sunday evening, as the race was winding down and we were all just standing around socializing, I was talking to Tim out by the ropes when I saw Roland Leong come over to say hi to my driver. They shook hands, and I had the quick thought "Should I stick my hand out and introduce myself? Maybe that would be silly. Why would Roland Leong care who I am?" At that point, Roland extended his hand toward me and said "Bob, I've never had the pleasure to meet you, but I want you to know I love your blog and read every one." A chill, almost a shiver, ran right through me. I was stunned. And, for a split second, I was almost at a loss for words (but I got over it and thanked him profusely for saying that.) Wow. Seriously, that was pretty amazingly cool.
Now, I've got to get cracking on putting together my "Year In Review" binder for Dick Levi and Shannon Heisler, at LRS. The goal every year, of course, is to have so many clippings contained in the binder that it makes a significant THUD when it lands on the desk at LRS headquarters in Springfield. We're coordinating that trip now, and since I'm not sure when we'll be having our annual meeting I need to get to work on this. Looks like I have enough material to make a pretty good sound when it hits the conference room table…
Oh… Almost forgot the biggest news! Under the heading of "Better Late Than Never" our beautiful 2013 die-cast cars are finally in, and yes YOU can buy one if you'd be so inclined. Just to go here: http://www.timwilkerson.com and click on the photo. You know you want one...
That's it for now. In case you hadn't noticed, the 2013 Mello Yello season is over. Hard to believe, isn't it?
It's one of the most overworked and overused subject matters in the history of both conversation and writing, but it's impossible to avoid at a time like this. Where in the world does the time go?
There is one race left in the 2013 season. That, by all practical matters, is impossible. Yet, here we are with reality staring us in the face and the truth of the inevitable matter is that we've completed 23 races and Pomona is all that is left. Yes, the older you get the faster it all moves, and that's really just a matter of perspective because each passing year is a smaller percentage of all the time you've spent on this planet compared to those before, but it's still startling (and sometimes horrifying) to watch another year, another race campaign, and another set of seasons go by as if no one was really watching.
To segue into both looking forward to Pomona and looking back over this year and those that preceded it, I guess it's appropriate to give you an update on little old me, since I skipped Las Vegas in the interest of better healing. As much as I hated to miss that race (and all the accompanying hoopla that is Las Vegas) it was clearly the best thing for me to do and the rewards have been substantial. The knee is back to about 90 percent and although I'm not running around limp-free (let's face it, I'm neither running around nor completely limp-free) I'm lightyears ahead of where I was just a week ago, and that's a very good thing. I plan on enjoying every single minute of Pomona.
So how far back should we look here, as I start out another nostalgic blog entry based on the passage of time? Well, let's start out by briefly going all the way back, in terms of my career in racing. We don't have to go "all the way back" in terms of other things (I started out as a little baby, but I don't remember much of that) so we'll turn the clock back to 1997 and amaze ourselves with the dichotomy of just how long ago that was, and just how "yesterday" it feels.
17 years is how long I've been doing this PR/Management gig. That's a long time. When I was 17-years old, I was absolutely certain I knew it all, had it all handled, and had not a single care in the world (other than playing baseball and getting my own car). 17 years… And let's face it, I wasn't a young whippersnapper when I started in this sport! I'd already spent about six years in baseball after I got out of college, then I moved on to the sports marketing universe where I initially gave Converse shoes away for a living, then worked for my brother's agency for three years, followed by a stint as the top guy in the front office for the St. Louis Storm indoor soccer team, and then another brief return to the world of Converse, before I became GM at Heartland Park and saw my first drag race. That would be 1991.
When I joined Del Worsham right before the 1997 season, I was already 40 years old. So, basically, this entire drag racing thing has been like a total reset and an entire new career for me, after I careened around having other types of fun for the first four decades of my haphazard life. Hard to believe.
That first year with Del, I was still a real newbie out here in the PR and management trenches, despite the fact I'd already spent many years running franchises and dealing with major professional athletes in other sports. I was unknown, mostly untested, and made up of a lot more potential that talent. Hey, you gotta fake it 'til you make it, and I was all about making sure I at least looked like I knew what I was doing, even when I didn't have a clue.
A few minutes ago, I dug through the drawer behind my desk and found an old photo from '97, with the old original blue Checker, Schuck's, Kragen car behind me. It was taken in the staging lanes in Seattle, and it's pretty noteworthy and hilarious on various fronts. I was clueless, but I had a knack for standing there looking like I was smart. There we were in the lanes, mere minutes away from making a lap, and importantly I had my all-important file folder with me. Hey, never know when you're going to need to access some key paperwork or have to take some copious notes! Plus, file folders clearly mean you're a serious guy who must be important. I also had on a nice white Schuck's Racing hat, which was almost as tall as something a train engineer would wear. Fashion is important!
The other detail I always spot in this photo is what's on my feet. Yet another pair of adidas "Samba" indoor soccer shoes. Having just come from my second stint running a team (this time the Kansas City Attack) where we'd had a wonderful sponsor relationship with the fine folks at adidas (that's not a typo, the name adidas is not capitalized), I probably had as many as 12-14 pairs of the iconic Samba model shoes in my closet at any time. I'm actually surprised I don't have any left, even as keepsakes, but I apparently finally gave in to the need to de-clutter and I'm sure a Goodwill store somewhere saw a windfall of practically new soccer shoes land in their bin one day, back around 2000 or so. But there I am, looking all serious and professional in the staging lanes at Seattle, still sporting the Sambas favored by soccer players from coast to coast. Those were cool shoes!
In the intervening years, I got a handle on how to actually do this job and do it fairly well. We started winning races, we added a second car, we grew and developed the program, and I enjoyed the wealth of good feelings and satisfaction that come from being a valued member of a team, who pulled his weight and helped get us where we finally were meant to be. Those were amazing years, and they passed by so fast…
All good things must come to an end though, as we all know, and in the business world you can't control what you can't control, so you have to adapt to change and we all faced that after 12 great years with Checker, Schuck's, Kragen. 2008 came along so quickly it was all a blur, and then the CSK days were over. Bam. Thanks for playing. By then, it seemed as if I'd worked for Del and Chuck forever, and my working relationship with the people at CSK was so deep and so involved I could barely imagine what it would be like to spend a week, much less forever, not talking to them and strategizing our program's success on a daily basis. Joe Spica, Jim Schoenberger, Ron Chisler, and all the rest of you wonderful people at CSK… I miss you still.
I got lucky again, though, and the only other guy I really wanted to work for offered me a job. Imagine that… I still marvel at my good fortune in that regard, because this is a small corner of the universe and for things to work out as I wanted I needed to have the unmitigated good fortune to go 2-for-2 in terms of being employed by the best possible people. From Team CSK to Team Wilk, you just can't do any better than that. When I started working for Tim, it seemed like I'd spent my whole life with the Worshams and it was all a little odd, but within days I felt right at home and it's felt that way ever since. Hard to believe I've been here two whole years. Wait… What? It's been more than two years? It's been FIVE YEARS???? Are you kidding me? This is crazy…
So not only did 2013 fly by like it was in warp drive, the last five seasons have also been a blur. And the 12 before them. And the years in other sports. And when exactly did I leave college? That was a lot of fun. I could've stayed there longer if they'd let me…
Man… So, we'll head to Pomona and we'll wrap this up and then let's get started on another one. We still have some loose ends to tie up in terms of budget and other pesky business items, but I'm looking forward to 2014 as much as I've ever anticipated any other season. I'm going to be recharged, full of new energy, and I'm going to put these stupid knee and ankle problems behind me and get back to "running around" like I should be. That's a promise…
And that brings us to wrapping up Las Vegas and the great feelings I had all weekend, as so many people sent me good wishes, photos, videos, and even a few cards (in actual envelopes, with stamps on them and everything. Wow).
With Vegas being such a "destination event" on our schedule, you know you're going to see a ton of old friends and familiar faces there, so in that regard it was really tough to not be in attendance. Crazy Jane and her hubby Chris, from Vancouver, never seem to miss that race and they were there this time as well. So were Tom and Doug Miller, from West Linn, Oregon. For the record, all four of them got together with that Wilkerson guy and took a couple of pictures for me. One was a standard group shot, entitled "We Miss You Bob" but the second was a more candid photo which represented how they really felt. Cracked me up.
My actor buddy Buck lives in Vegas, of course, and this marked the first time the full four-person Hujabre family has ever made a trip to the races as a group. It seems like yesterday when Buck and Mary spent three weeks living with us back in Minnesota, while the "Jersey Boys" traveling show was in Minneapolis, and it was then that little Gibson took his first steps, while they were in our house. Now, little Gibson is big brother Gibson, and little Hudson is older than Gibson was back in the Woodbury days. Gibson is a veteran of quite a few trips to the track now, and he watches avidly on ESPN2 every week, rooting for Wilk (seriously, like out loud and actually yelling "Go Tim!" whenever we're on the track) but this was Hudson's first foray into the noisy world of racing. By all accounts, he has the some genetic make-up as his crazy father and hot-rod brother. His wonderful mother simply understands her men and loves to see them happy at the drag races.
Buck and Mary also brought Aaron DeJesus with them, another actor from the Vegas company of "Jersey Boys" and since I wasn't there they had to find a stand-in for a group photo. They found some guy named Capps. Apparently, he did okay as my pinch-hitter. Must be a nice enough guy, I guess…
Our longtime friend Gerald Meux was also there, with his wonderful lady Kari Kieger. Gerald is a rising star with Hormel, and he's also a huge NHRA fan who has almost become part of our team whenever he can attend a race. Does it help that he feeds us like celebrities? It doesn't hurt, but the truth is he's such a great guy and Kari is so much fun as well, they've become part of the family.
Kari is a talented videographer (you might recall that she and Gerald won the NHRA video contest about having the "Nitro Gene") and she shot some great stuff all weekend. She then grabbed a few video stills for me, which both illustrate some really cool perspectives, and I've included them in the gallery today. You just don't often get to see in-car camera shots of us towing the race car to the lanes or of Tim driving the tow vehicle back to the pit after a lap. Cool stuff.
Looking all professional and serious back in '97, while sporting my cool Samba indoor-soccer shoes
Erica Moon was there, and she's one of our biggest and most favorite fans. You might remember Erica from when we did those displays with the Circle K car before Brainerd. She came to the Elk River display and had her photo taken with Tim, standing next to her car and its "WILKFAN" license plates.
So, lots of friends and lots of support, and that's a big part of what makes doing this job an absolute treat. It's a privilege to do this, and that is not lost on me. It's also an honor. And I can't believe I've been doing it for 17 years. I still have nightmares about being late for a college class I thought I had dropped, only to discover the final exam is in minutes and I haven't studied at all… It's always a relief to wake up from that one and slowly come to the realization that I have my diploma, and at this point I'm pretty sure they can't take it away from me.
Here in Liberty Lake, we've gone from the most beautiful autumn to a startling change toward winter in just the last couple of days, even though the sky is a royal blue today. For the last few weeks, we've been lucky enough to have daily highs in the upper 50s or low 60s, clear skies, and a town full of trees so vibrantly colorful it almost looked like Hollywood special effects. And then a front moved through on Sunday… Strong and cold winds from the north, whistling through this little town at 50 to 60 mph, and in the morning on Monday there was a dusting of snow on the ground, while so many of the trees were now bare, with their leaves blown away by the first winter cold front. It happens. Winter happens. And so does spring and the next summer, so we keep moving forward.
On another subject, no less important than any others I've just written about, there's this guy name John Force and in Vegas he clinched his 16th World Championship in the Funny Car class. This, as we say in technical terms, is big stuff.
Last night, on the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams reported on this Force guy, and his amazing accomplishment at the age of 64. As outlined above in sparse detail, I've been in this gig for a long time and I think that's a first. And for those of you who think the mega-machine that is JFR just gets this sort of stuff handed to them, I offer this: The reasons you see so much publicity for John Force and the JFR organization are many, and none of them have been handed to them. 1) John Force has now won 16 championships and that's kinda sorta newsworthy. 2) He's bigger than life and you can't fabricate a personality like that. 3) Dave Densmore and Elon Werner are the two best PR and Media Relations representatives in our sport. Ever. Period.
It's a treat to work with Dens and Elon, and it has been for many years. They are tireless in their pursuit of a job well done, and they are both enormously talented. We have a large group of amazingly dedicated and talented people working in this PR part of the drag racing world, and as a group I think we've all helped elevate the sport to new levels. But, if there's ever a Hall of Fame sort of thing for any of us, Elon Werner and Dave Densmore should be the initial inductees. Great work, my friends…
And so we head to Pomona. Let's go out with a bang and hit the ground running for 2014. Are ya in?
Well, I guess today's headline could apply to just about all facets of life, really. But, in terms of today's short update blog it has to do with what I've been dealing with for the last couple of weeks and I'd prefer to start with the good news, because there's more of that and I'm an optimistic guy.
Once we got back here to Spokane, I was able to get in to see the specialists who have been watching my knees and ankles for a while now, so they have the history and the background to work with. I'm happy to say that the last two appointments have been a pair of the most encouraging and positive meetings ever, despite the fact these "meetings" always seem to include the use of sharp pointy things, many of which are inserted into various joints on my body. Hey, it's the price you pay for expert analysis.
It's one thing (and not all that unusual) to spend some time with a doctor and kind of get the sense that he or she is already thinking about the next appointment on the docket, or perhaps lunch, or their tee time. That glassy-eyed look acts like a protector shield for their brains, and no matter how well you explain the symptoms and the history, you get the same sort of nod and "uh huh" back in return. On more than one occasion, I've been tempted to throw in "And then the undead came out of their graves to make me a zombie too, and that's why I'm here today" just to see if they're listening.
The last two professionals I've seen, downtown at one of the truly great major medical centers we have here in Spokane, have been the antithesis of that stereotype. They've been engaged, they listened, they asked questions, and they were eager to really find the right answers and get all this knee and ankle pain behind me. I could tell within minutes that we were really making headway.
Yesterday, I had another meeting with another new guy in the same office, and I'm going to say that the one full hour we spent in his office, uninterrupted and totally immersed in a give-and-take conversation about my sports history, and the issues I've had since then, was one of the most refreshing doctor appointments I've ever experienced. He had done his homework, he had reams of info from the previous doctors who had seen me, and he was focused on every word of the conversation. It was kind of mind-boggling!
So the really good news is this: We have a new plan, including some new meds but also including some new diet changes and overall lifestyle adaptations that should all work in concert to (hopefully) make these blow-ups a thing of the past. I'm for that, and even though it's never easy to systematically alter your diet (especially when you travel a lot) this plan allows me to eat what I like as long as we just keep the really bad processed "junk" out of my diet. There are gobs of easy-to-grab lousy foods out there, full of chemicals and other crazy stuff that can't be any good for you, not to mention trans fats and calories, but there are also plenty of great foods out there too, that have shown every indication that they fight things like inflammation, so we're heading that way and I'm excited to do it. And hey, I like fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, lean meats, and water. What's not to like?
I think the best part, though, is that I have this team of professionals working with me now, and they've all bought in to what we're doing. You can see a lot of doctors in your life, and a lot of high-priced specialists at that, but just the human connection and the real care mean as much as anything. When your doctor is calling you from his cell phone, just hours after a visit, to go over some test results and talk some more about the plan, that makes you feel like you're in good hands.
In the end, after a few more tests and a couple of additional injections, the conversation turned to Las Vegas, and my trip down there tomorrow. We discussed all the good and bad aspects of that, as well as the potential pitfalls, and in the end my doc said, "I can't make the call for you, but if you're asking my advice I'd tell you to stay home. Missing one tough race, where you're on your feet all day wearing your knees out anyway, just to give this new program a chance to take hold and help you turn the corner, well it's a no-brainer for me."
I agreed with him 100 percent, and the best part is I knew Tim would as well. He was flying this morning, but I left him a text telling him about my doctor's advice, and I finished the text with the line "Was thinking of hanging myself, but I've never been any good at knots…" When he landed, Wilk texted me back immediately and said "Absolutely no problem. Take the rope and wrap it around three times, then pull the long end of the rope up through the knot…" Cracked me up. And I needed a good laugh.
We just got off the phone and everything is copacetic for the weekend. Fortunately, we don't do hospitality in Vegas so I can do the PR work from home, and that will give me a chance to get on this new protocol and get all better. Hopefully for good… You know, when I was playing baseball right up until the age of 40, it never occurred to me that once I quit I might pay a price for it at some point. I thought I was indestructible (with the exception of both hamstrings and my right shoulder, which were all clearly destructible). I know lots of people get new knees (and hips, for that matter) as they get a little older, but my goal is to keep the ones I have. If we can get the tendons, ligaments, and joints to cooperate the bones should be fine…
So, in my mind the good news outweighs the bad news by an enormous ratio. I'll skip a race that's hard on everyone, in terms of how far we walk and how long the days are, while still doing my normal bang-up job on the PR side. This will give me the chance to follow instructions and start the new meds, and hopefully we'll see improvement in a hurry. Then, it's just a matter of following orders and sticking with the program. It will all be good.
And as much as people complain about the airlines today, I need to give Delta props once again. What, is this the third time in just a couple of weeks I've had to cancel a trip? They've been fantastic, and have issued another full credit with no fees so that my Vegas ticket now sits in my account until I need to use it, or even use part of it. That, and they're well trained to be a little extra nice on the phone when the subject comes up as to why I need to cancel my trip. Very good customer service…
Now, I'm going to switch those mental gears to get ready for a "remote control" race, and I'll be aiming to be the best PR person out there once the cars begin to make noise.
On other subjects, there's this thing called the World Series, and it's scheduled to start tonight. As you might know, I have plenty of connections with both the Cardinals and Red Sox, not the least of which would be that my father played for both teams. Of course, he played for the Sox before I was born and I spent my entire youth in St. Louis, including countless hours at old Busch Stadium (the "real" old Busch, meaning Sportsman's Park on N. Grand) and then what we considered "new" Busch, the circular stadium in downtown which has now been replaced by the newest the new Busch Stadiums. I'll be pulling for Stan, Enos, Gibby, Lou, Ozzie, and my old man. Go Cardinals, but much respect to the Red Sox.
And finally, I recently got the sad word that Jim Parrott, the man who had been running Farotto's Pizza for decades, passed away recently. When a pizzeria owner dies in a major American city, it's not usually worthy of a major feature-style obituary, but Farotto's is a little different, and is such a part of the St. Louis landscape it was clearly something on which the St. Louis Post-Dispatch would report. Funny thing is, I wasn't fully aware of the whole baseball connection between Lou Farotto (who started the restaurant) and so many Cardinals, from back in my dad's day. That was interesting to read, and it turned on the little light bulb over my head to indicate the revelation "Well no wonder I grew up eating Farotto's!"
I wish I could pick up the phone right now, dial 314-962-0048 and order a pizza. And when I'd walk in the door to pick it up, Mr. Parrott would spot me as if I'd been there yesterday, despite the fact it might have been more than a year since my last visit, and he'd shout to the crew "Pizza for Wilber" and then wink at me before he went back to work. There are days I miss St. Louis just a little bit more than others. Go Cardinals!
Sorry for my lengthy hiatus (longest one ever?) but I do have a note from my doctor to explain my absence. Yep, another one of THOSE stories. They seem to never end, although we're doing all we can to try to make sure they do.
So here's the short version of the story: We raced in Reading for three days and the weather was just about perfect. I think that might be a sentence I have never before written. Seriously, the weather was terrific, and with that the crowds were enormous. Three days of packed grandstands, wall-to-wall humanity in the pits, and spectators stacked up at the fence for the length of the track. It was something to see, and coming right on the heels of a St. Louis race which also needed a shoe horn to squeeze in any additional fans, it was a great sign of the rebound I see us going through now, after a tough period we had for a couple of years after the economy fell off a cliff in September of 2008. When they're buying tickets and pouring in at a clip like what we've seen lately, you have to be pretty impressed.
On Sunday, things did start off a little foggy, but the sun soon burned through and we had another great day, except on the track where our day ended early with a "double-whammy" that included a red-light start in round one followed by a brief encounter with one of the orange timing blocks. No real damage to the body (although some foam "guts" were stuck in the wheel well) but our day was over in such a strange way, and it was over way too early.
Barb's brother Tim came over from Pittsburgh on Sunday, and he brought along his son Colin, who you may remember as my intern from last year when Colin came along to learn the ropes at both the St. Louis and Reading races. It was great to see them both, but a little disheartening to have our day end so prematurely.
Once I got my PR work done, we headed out to our cars and got out of Maple Grove just as the final round was going off. Colin rode with me, while Barb rode with Tim, and upon departure everything seemed pretty copacetic. I was still feeling the after-effects of the cold or bug I brought with me to Reading, but other than that I felt pretty good. Colin and I made it back to Pittsburgh in around four hours, and when we walked inside the house I recall being a little stiff and sore, especially around my right knee, but it wasn't anything alarming.
We had a great dinner, and after that Barb and I took our stuff down to a spare bedroom in the corner of the basement. We've stayed down there before, and although it's cramped and dark, it's a fine (and quiet) place to spend a night or two. That was the plan, to spend two nights there and then fly home to Spokane on Tuesday. That was the plan, he said… I came home on Friday instead, and the extra days seemed like weeks.
Sometime during the middle of the night on Sunday, I recall waking up to a sore and swollen right knee. By the time sunrise rolled around, it was really hurting. I hobbled around after we got up, and it was getting more sore (and bigger) by the hour. The original plan for Monday was for Tim, Barb, and me to head to downtown Pittsburgh in the early afternoon, to see the Pirates - Cardinals playoff game at beautiful PNC Park. We found some great seats on StubHub, and were all amped up to go there. My problem was evident before I even got out of bed, though. With my knee that sore and blown up, there was no way I could go to the game…
I did a lot of icing, kept it elevated, and tried to relax and rest all day, allowing Barb and her brother to venture down to the ballgame by themselves (they were easily able to sell the third ticket on the street.) I watched on TV, and with each passing hour it was getting more and more obvious that this was no little "sore knee" deal, but a lot more like the big "blown-up knee" episode from a couple of years ago, when I went from "Hey, my knee hurts" to the Emergency Room in Woodbury, to being admitted immediately, to arthroscopic surgery six hours later. I wasn't looking forward to a replay of that escapade, but I also wasn't looking forward to any more of the pain and stiffness, both of which were ramping up by the hour.
Fortunately, Barb's brother Tim is in the medical device business, so he knows reputable doctors all around Pittsburgh, and he was able to point us in the right direction on Tuesday morning. We got a "standby" appointment with an orthopedic guy, and with Barb driving we headed over there with yours truly in a lot of pain. Just getting into and out of the car was no fun whatsoever.
Also fortunately, we had the track record of the left knee episode to start with, so this new doctor didn't have to speculate or start from scratch after we filled him in on the backstory. Had that not been the case, I think he would've admitted me to a local hospital at once, because the swelling was so fierce. Instead, he prescribed some stuff, gave me some crutches, and sent us home with the stern word that if my fever went up at all (I was at around 101 at the time) we were to immediately head to an ER and get admitted. Fever means infection, and you don't mess around with that.
He also drained the knee, and let's just say he had no problem getting close to 100 cc of fluid out of it. As for me, it was a long dreary day and very painful. No fun whatsoever.
I had already been on the phone with Delta and Hertz, to arrange new travel plans (the doc had allowed us to go back to Tim's house, but he ruled out travel for the next 36 to 48 hours.) The "no fun" factor was rising by the minute, and I was beginning to wonder when I might ever get home, back here in Liberty Lake.
Tuesday night was no fun at all, and when you're in pain like that one of the first things to go is your appetite. You need fuel to fight whatever it is that's ailing you, but absolutely nothing tastes good and most everything actually tastes awful. On Wednesday morning, it was clear I needed to get back to the doctor's office ASAP, but the best they could do was get us another "standby" deal. We ended up spending about two hours in the waiting room, and that long period of time was made even much more merry by the fact my knee really hurt. Like, a lot!
We saw a different doctor that day, and he drained another 25 cc or so out of it, sending me back to Tim's house with a new prescription and some additional advice. Again, the thought of getting back here to Spokane seemed more remote than ever. If riding in the car was that difficult, riding on two different planes and making a connection at MSP seemed impossible.
One more set of phone calls to Delta and Hertz gave me some much-needed flexibility, with both companies waiving all fees and allowing me to shift my plane and car into "open ended" status. All I had to do was return the car whenever I could, and call Delta as soon as I was cleared to fly. Stellar customer service, to be honest, with some genuinely kind people on the other end of the phone.
By Thursday it felt as if I'd been stuck there for months. The fact it was still just two additional days since I was originally supposed to fly home seemed inconceivable. Fortunately, I had the enormous hospitality of Tim Doyle, his wife Kelly, and their boys Sean and Colin to make it all more bearable. Imagine if I'd originally planned on being in Pittsburgh for one night, by myself and not knowing anyone, when this happened? It was easy to think of this whole thing as being unlucky, but if it was going to happen at all I guess I have to consider myself enormously fortunate to have had it happen this way.
Absolutely HUGE crowds all weekend, at Maple Grove. How's this for a Friday gathering!
We went back to the original doctor on Thursday afternoon, and by then I was walking with crutches instead of being wheeled around in a chair by my wonderful wife. When I came into the waiting room, upright with the aluminum crutches under my arms, almost the entire staff smiled and gave me a thumbs-up. They'd been so concerned and so helpful for days, and you could tell they really cared about this stranger from Washington who fell into their laps out of nowhere.
I was feeling good enough to get my flight rebooked, so on Friday morning we headed for the airport at the crack of pre-dawn, rolling out of Tim's house at around 5:45 to beat the traffic through downtown Pittsburgh in order to make it to PIT in time for my 9:15 flight. We had wheelchairs requested all along the way, and I was pushed through the congested TSA area in pretty short order, but that was the first of many things that irritated me. I don't like being wheeled around, and I absolutely didn't like going to the front of the line. I was embarrassed to do that, and felt that sort of thing should be reserved for folks who really are in bad shape. Once the "pusher" got us to the gate, I gave her a tip and let her go. From that point forward, I was walking…
The flight up to MSP wasn't too bad, and although I had stiffened up a bit when we were in the air, I grabbed my crutches and walked right past the wheelchair on the jet bridge. No more of that, if I could help it…
Barb needed to stay in the Twin Cities for a few days, so I made my connection and got out to Spokane around 1:30 on Friday afternoon, once again eschewing the wheelchair for the slow walk with crutches. The only hard part was getting my bag, by backpack, my crutches, and myself out to the car in the parking garage at GEG. I either had one too many sets of crutches or one too few sets of arms, but I managed to get it done.
I've been here since, spending the weekend with Boofus and Buster (who can always sense when you're not feeling well, and who then typically ramp up the snuggling to peak levels) and Barb is due back here in just a few hours. It will be nice to all be together at home, in our own bed on the main floor.
So… I now have an appointment with my specialist here tomorrow (amazed they got me in that fast) and we'll see where we go from here. Obviously, the chronic problems I have with my knees and ankles are something we have to fix. Can't go on like this, not knowing when you're going to go from fine to laid-up without any notice. Plus, when it's not good, it's really not good. Wednesday was about as painful a day as I've ever experienced. I'd like no more of that please. Count me out...
Like I said, it was tough to have a knee problem flare up when I was on the road, but the Pittsburgh Doyle family did all they could for me, and I can't ever repay them enough for that. I felt like Gilligan. I came there for two quick nights (a three hour tour) and ended up staying there for what seemed like forever, stranded in a basement bedroom. I owe Tim, Kelly, Sean, and Colin a lot, and I'm looking forward to paying them back for their unselfish hospitality, hopefully arranging something for them that makes them all smile. As for my lovely wife, I wish I could repay her a hundred-fold. It couldn't have been any fun having me around, pushing me around, and getting me out to the doctors every day. Thank you, Sweetie!
Now, we'll just continue to rest it and try to get better. Having a second week off in a row surely helps (yes it does, and don't call me Shirley) so I have another week to get ready for Vegas. I'll be there, and I'll be ready to rock…
Again, sorry for the absence and sorry for the lack of hilarity here, but "it is what it is" and all that. There's also no tomorrow, our backs are to the wall, and we have to play them one game at a time. I love clichés…
Back soon, and it won't be so long that I need another doctor's note to explain my absence…