Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Many days, this is still an aspirational workout.

An example of No Quit Fit's program
I’ve requested and received a lot of workout advice over the years. Outside a gym in Pittsburgh, one person I knew told me the best workout just boils down to one that you like to do.

“Huh?” I looked at him not sure whether he was kidding or not.

“Just do that.”

I still wasn't convinced.

A year ago on my way back from vacation, I listened to a podcast about working out in the natural environment and all the advantages for your blood  pressure, stress levels and general health.

Sounds of birds chirping, brooks babbling and trees blowing in the wind quickly evoked images of the woods, but what I liked most was the sound of happy voices.  I liked the idea that there would be a group, people to guide me through the woods. Now that I’m living in Minnesota, I figured there’s plenty of nature around to take advantage of.

I tried looking at and found yes there were groups that meet outdoors to workout, but my experience with was never consistent. I was willing to pay for something that had structure.

I searched the internet and found more than I bargained for.

No Quit Fit is run by Chris Mielke and Sarah Phenow, military and law enforcement trainers, respectively, which I found off-putting at first. However, I was assured that all levels are welcome and you could work at your own pace.

The group I’m in meets at 530 am. Sharp.

(This is a perfect for me, because I am up at that time anyway and have always looked for someone to talk to at that early hour. When I lived in Burlington Vermont, I was often first in line for Starbucks on Church Street which opened at 5am. The homeless shelter let out about that time as well and the line would grow. I befriended many of those standing in line with me. Some would get a free cup of joe, some paid. We came to know each other. Whenever I was out shopping with the family or just walking down Church Street, inevitably I’d hear from somewhere, “Hey John! Over Here. Hello!” It’s that kind of place - but so is Minnesota.)

Anyway, as most of us who live here know, the parks in Minnesota are often over the top. No Quit Fit meets at Roseville Central Park among other places. Roseville is the one I go to, and it’s filled with the usual tennis courts and swing sets, but also an unusual amount of trees, a small waterfall which leads into a lake and plenty of space to run around.

When I arrive at 530 in the morning, the parking lot is usually already full. When there was snow on the ground in the winter, the parking lot was still full. In the winter, many like it even better because the fields provide the right mix of terrain, the snow provides extra cushion and running up and down the hills keeps everybody warm.

Today, the workout was introduced on a whiteboard. It was called Flip the Script. No breaks. Continuous movement. A little running in the middle. Nearly sixty minutes in all.

I said to Jerry my workout partner that the workout would have to be more of an aspiration than actual workout. I still have trouble with pushups not to mention several other things on the morning’s list of exercises. He ignored  my concerns.

I went ahead and did the best I could. No one wants to be the one person who can’t. That’s another advantage of the community that comes with the workouts. The discipline is contagious. Most are above my level, some way above who come to workouts carrying rucksacks which is essentially a backpack with a metal plate in it.

“You’ll get there,” I remember Sarah telling me when I first arrived.

I didn’t believe this at first. But after catching myself commenting that the workouts seemed to be getting easier, I had to smile.

One day last week, the other head trainer Chris had on his shirt a quote often attributed to an anonymous navy seal because of its usefulness to the military. It actually is the ancient Greek poet Archilochus who penned it:

“We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

This is true enough for me. I was able to catch myself from falling down a flight of stairs because of my training. This idea seems to explain a lot of things, not just workouts.

No Quit Fit is billed as the only year-round outdoor fitness program in the Twin Cities. Information can be found on their website:

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Test Spin (Sample fiction - Read time 17 minutes)

Our business really started one morning, right after Adam knocked at my apartment door surprisingly early. He said he wanted to take me for a ride in the car he’d been working on. He said he couldn’t wait any longer or listen to anymore of my doubts. He was certain one ride would prove his invention worked, and we wouldn’t have to wait any longer to get started. We would make millions.
I wiped some sand out of my eyes, realizing I didn’t have plans, except a vague thought of asking a pretty college student from India that lived across the street if she wanted to take a ride in my car out to the New Jersey Balloon Festival an hour away.
The landlady that rented me my apartment in Edison was an older, heavy, pale-skinned Irish woman with stiff curly blonde hair and big round glasses. She hinted that it would be nice to get more of “my kind” into her apartment complex, but it wasn’t till after I moved in that I noticed that she must have meant the white kind because the majority of residents in my apartment complex were from India - just one or two regions in India at that, mostly the northern part, where the skin is darker and ancient traditions run deep. At first, this did make me feel like an outsider in many ways, until I happened upon a road, just three-quarters of a mile from my apartment complex, that had every Indian food imaginable. There, I got to know one of the Indian folks that ran a restaurant and after a few conversations with the girl I liked about the restaurants up on the hill, I felt as if I was fitting in a little more.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Fact or Fiction? The Return of the Loch Ness Monster

2016 was a banner year for Loch Ness Monster spotting but sightings came to a halt in 2017 according to a story by NPR. This is bad for the Loch Ness Monster business. This reminds me of story I wrote about Inverness after a visit there.

It was typical of Irwin to plan events for the both of us on the spur of the moment. It was typical of me to be on the receiving end, accepting Irwin’s plans with enthusiasm.
“Did I tell you about Gerry Fine?”
“Who’s Gerry Fine?”
“He’s a nut case. He ordered 15,000 toy Loch Ness monsters after that horror movie came out on the Loch Ness Monster. He wants to see if we can revive the idea of another movie. He's going to pay me just to go there," he said.
"What happened to the original movie?" I asked.
"It bombed. It wasn't even filmed there. He wants me to see what I think about a change of setting."
“All on account of some toys?"
"He just sent me a huge box of them.” There was a little silence as Irwin chuckled at the memory. “There must have been a thousand of them. I have the plastic creatures with their bobbing heads all over the place.”
"He’ll just dig himself deeper into a hole.”
"It's not my money.”

Monday, July 25, 2016

Philando Castile: Someone hit rewind!

Lake Superior - Northern Minnesota
I've moved to Minnesota. Before settling in, I took a trip with the family through northern Minnesota - breathtaking.

During this time, our new neighborhood was subjected to torrential winds and rain and downed trees leaving some without power.

Also that week, Philando Castile, an African American, was shot and killed by a white police officer during what initially was reported to be a routine traffic stop one neighborhood over from our new home.

It seems such a shame that the Mr. Castile could not tell the officer who he was: a popular, well-liked cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St Paul before he was shot and killed. I have to believe that would have created immediate understanding  - despite the fact that he was carrying a gun.

I just moved to St Paul, and it would have meant a lot to me.

Isn’t that what many people pulled over in a small town do - stress their credentials or ties to the officer (my girlfriend’s sister is a friend of X who knows Y who knows you) or the town? Aren’t millions of dollars donated each year to police benevolent associations, stickers sent out and affixed to the bumpers of cars for this reason? Isn't it a badge of honor to talk your way out of a ticket?

Monday, March 21, 2016

What Gentrification Could Mean for Pittsburgh

This mural of hope for twenty years has anchored
 a row of mostly vacant properties in Garfield 
that's became known in Pittsburgh as “Bride’s Row.”

Twenty years ago the Friendship neighborhood in Pittsburgh had more than its fair share of derelict homes. When I moved into the area ten years ago, the home next to ours was run down and should have been condemned.

Within two years however, a private speculator bought it and within a year sold it for seven times what he paid for it. Obviously, with those kind of returns, derelict properties were not going to last long.

As homes continue to increase in value, the fear now is that some people will be pushed out. This is the definition of gentrification. Is such a thing even possible in Pittsburgh?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My early experience doing business with Donald Trump's organization.

When I was in my early twenties, I started a small publishing business in New Jersey. Donald Trump was already a big name. I was anything but.

I just quit a perfectly good job selling advertising in New York, moved to a cheap apartment and drove a 1976 Caprice Classic car that, as it turned out, leaked gas. On the Merritt Parkway while taking a romantic getaway trip with a girlfriend, the car caught fire and backed up traffic for two hours in both directions. Inside were the incorporation papers for my new business. I had to start again.

I couldn’t afford office space so I worked out of my garden apartment in Edison. Company mail was delivered to an Easter basket inside a main street address at someone else’s office in Metuchen – an insurance broker or somebody like that. I took my bike over until I was able to borrow a car from my parents.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Wrestling Story

People often ask me, or perhaps it's I'd rather they ask me, "what's it like being a wrestler after high school and college?"

Some get rather demanding about it. To satisfy their demands, here is short story I did a few years ago while at a fiction class at the University of Vermont.


For months, Randy had been looking forward to this weekend. He wanted to recapture the feelings he used to have when he lived in town, before his marriage failed, before he was completely burned out by his career, before wrestling became a forgotten sport and the university's football team was everything. Back then, his place in the world was unquestioned. His team was the only undefeated Division I wrestling team in the country. Eight of them had perfect, undefeated records which was how they came to be called the “Eighty-ates” all across the state. For that one year, his last year at the university, wrestling surpassed football in spectator enthusiasm.

Ten years after most of them graduated, a national sports magazine did a story called “Ten Years After.” The magazine paid for everything: airfares, hotel rooms, food and a night on the town. The question came up, as it did every time they were interviewed, about their so-called “tribal meetings” out in the woods, in the snow if necessary, and if these were in fact the key to their success. The interviewer wanted to be taken to one of the spots where they used to meet for a series of photographs, but none of them would ever say anything about it.

They practiced together every day at the gym for four hours a day, but once a week, on Wednesday night, it was true - they would descend that hilly slope, bringing firewood on their shoulders, some quick starting solution and an old tire rim.

Once they reached the camp, everything would be laid out on the ground, and someone would strike a match. Within minutes, they would circle around a blazing fire and he would see the faces of the eight others, eight others that he respected more than anyone else.

They had one rule for each meeting: you had to step toward the fire where the group could see you and unload any personal problems. He remembered what Josh Heiner said to that, at first. He didn’t want to speak about his personal situation, an assault charge hanging over his head from some fight that summer. But eventually he opened up, and let the team help.

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The Test Spin (Sample fiction - Read time 17 minutes)

Our business really started one morning, right after Adam knocked at my apartment door surprisingly early. He said he wanted to take me f...