Footpower vs. Horsepower

I never thought to hate an object so much as I do now. And it is an obscene object, at that. It’s black and heavy, covered in soot and soil, dirt and grime. But everywhere I go these days, I have to carry it with me–like a ball and chain, limping along, the report of clanking as it meets the tile or sidewalk as I go. Even in the grass, I can’t be silent–as the object scrapes along with the sound of dead leaves in its wake, leaving a trail through the grass like a remorseless lawnmower.

It is of course, a black boot-the kind you wear when you’re injured, but only just so. I’ve been battling my left foot for sometime-first with plantar fascitis, then with tendonitis, now with a fallen arch. The boot is really more for the tendonitis which is where most of the pain emanates from right now.

I know levels of pain–I’m not nearly naive enough to say that I know pain-for pain has cruel practitioners far beyond what I’ve ever felt. But I’ve suffered from severe back pain and neck pain, had surgery on the lower spine, avoided it on the upper and lived with it for years. This pain is certainly not that and I would never pretend it is.

It’s annoying and nuisance-making and it does stop me from doing what I want to do. I’m a habitual walker. Dog on leash, I have traversed thousands of miles in the past 18 years or so since I started. My average is 12 miles a week, but the last two weeks, my average is two. I am to keep myself from using the foot too much, hoping that it will respond to the rest–and then, when I get the new orthodics, perhaps I’ll be able to get back to it. In the meantime, I’m creature-like with my big black boot making me clumsy and gamely.

It is not the end of the world, of course and this too shall pass. It actually came in handy yesterday when I went test-driving new cars with my sister-in-law. She wanted to look at the new Ford Focus hatchback and the Subaru Impreza wagon and as I have become a car fan in recent years, I went along for the ride–literally.  The boot made it harder to climb into back seats, but not impossible, and it was a nice test of how the cars are.

So, to the Ford dealer first where I was excited because all I’ve read of the Focus, particularly the ST version with its turbo assist and sporty good looks, made it one I’ve wanted to try. We didn’t test the ST, however, because sis was interested more in the practical SE version, which is still good looking. The write-ups on it have been wonderful and critics love it—and I don’t know why.

The SE we rode in was not quite the base model, but close. We had the 2.0 liter, four-banger engine and a few added safety bits, but that was all. From the time I climbed in the backseat, I was uncomfortable and too tall. My legs fit, barely, but my head scraped the ceiling and there is a definite claustrophobic air about the car. It is not spacious in any way. The materials inside are cheap and plasticky and build quality seemed, well, like an afterthought. The dashboard had so many buttons, nobs and choices, that it belonged on a Boeing, not on a Ford–and learning them would have been a time consumer. It was equipped with an oversize numeric keyboard on the dash, but this car did not have the Bluetooth connectivity. I guess the idea is, put the keyboard in–and it’ll convince you to pay more for the Bluetooth.

Laurie reported that the driver’s seat was comfortable, indeed. She’d wanted the five-speed manual, but they had none in stock, so we drove the automatic. With two liters and reported 160 hp, I expected snappy and spiffy. We rounded a corner, no traffic and I said, “hey sis, step on it.”

Her reply? “I am.” Not much to it.

The only real thing to report is that it is good looking–but all the pretense about the amount of room, the power, the reliability (which apparently is true really only for the manual transmission, which Ford doesn’t sell many of–as the automatic transmission is already problematic) is just that. It was a disappointment and put me off of Ford just when I was learning to appreciate them again as the only American car maker worth their salt. We are back to the drawing board in American cars.

The Subaru Impreza hatchback, however, lived up to and beyond its reputation. Beautiful to look at–much more handsome than the Focus, roomy, comfortable, powerful, sturdy and engineered very well (if in a collision, the engine drops down and away from the passenger compartment, the anti-lock brakes are cross-over circuitry, allowing for more stable braking as well as more safety should one circuit fail and the list goes on). The backseat was roomy and easy to access and when Sis punched the accelerator (again, an automatic-which according to Subaru gets better mileage than the manual because of its technology–I’m skeptical), the car responded immediately and got up and went. Funny, because it has twelve fewer horsepowers than the Focus, and yet, it was a much more responsive, much quicker car. I dare say, if we’d drag raced the two, the Impreza would have won–certainly off the line anyway.

Sis is methodical and has a few more tests she wants to drive–but I came away from the experience both sadder and wiser–but also, enthused. Thanks, Subaru.


Riding the Low

I’ve wanted to move forward from the last post about which I was rather pleased. It was cathartic for me to write that in some ways but in other ways, it took a great deal of effort to process it once I’d written it. I know that in these pages, I’ve recounted my childhood and adolescence several times, but never with such aching detail and so sitting to write about anything that was happening was daunting. I consoled myself with the great number of stories I was producing for various publications and in some ways, I am still doing that.

But then came mid-February and this month during which I was resolved to simply immerse myself in the dozen or so projects in which I’m involved. Conferences, seminars, classes, stories, interviews, family life and a constant stream of “to-do’s” allowed me to bury much of it and move forward.

Now, though, the pressure of those things caught up with me as well and there have been difficult and stressful weeks, sleepless nights, long days that have not seen to fruition the work I’d originally begun. Suddenly, the projects were piling up, more daunting and my usual luck with things like snagging interviews at the last minute dematerialized. I had to slow down-the pace was too much.

So this weekend, with a couple of stories to write (one already done!) and one to cover tomorrow, I decided to cut myself some slack and begin slowly nurturing myself back into a flow. Relaxation, family and friends-time outside walking, smelling the air. Simple things I needed and forgot to do for myself suddenly are priorities. Friends of mine with whom I work are suffering real pain and I’ve watched them go from zero to 60 on the stress-ometer in less than a day. The circle of friends at school has fragmented with personal traumas that have slowed them, and given them great pause. Try as I might to be there for them, there is only so much I can do. With such impotence and all the while dealing with the changes at school itself, everything changed. Everything felt like pressure.

There are always lessons in these sorts of things for everyone, but right here in the midst of it, those lessons are hard to find. Like the last piece I posted here, it’s taken me nearly 30 years to process a part of my life that had such an impact on me. I am in hopes it isn’t another 30 before I process this, but I don’t think it will be. I’m already starting to climb on top of it and look down to see where I can make changes.

For me, that’s the real lesson. I can be a better man. I can always choose to lift myself–and others–up out of despair and I can always choose compassion for others and for myself. It’s so easy to say “I have no choice.” But I do have choices and exercising them becomes the order of the day.

So, I’ve been riding the low while concentrating on pulling up out of it. While down here, though, I’ve become aware that I am most certainly not alone and that if I have to be here, one way of pulling myself out is to help pull others out, too.