Subway Thoughts : Uptown F, Brooklyn-bound L

After writing about my experience on the J train a few days ago, I started to think about how many interesting moments take place on the subway. Specifically, I was thinking about the things I’ve seen and how new moments of note occur in front of me on a daily basis. I take two to three different trains every day, and each line is populated with very different varieties of travelers. Today, I begin “Subway Thoughts”, in which I’ll provide accounts of what I see, and maybe even what I hear (although most of the time I’m rocking out internally, scoping out the scene to the soundtrack of my choosing).

ella ella a

L (the guy who kept trying to talk to the girl with the headphones in) : A man squeezed himself next to a young woman on one of the two-seaters you find at the end of a car. She had headphones in, bobbing her head to the music while she picked fries out of the McDonald’s bag on her lap. While the man began to read at first, a few minutes into our Brooklyn-bound journey he attempted to engage his seat-mate in conversation. She slowly removed one ear bud to listen to whatever he wanted to say, curtly answered and attempted to replace her headphone. The man would not stop talking, much to her chagrin. This chick’s blatant annoyance was key. She’d barely turn her head to emit her brusque replies, and I noticed her looking around to see if anyone was aware of what was happening to her. She didn’t notice me, but I noticed her and the man lacking self-awareness next to her.
What the F.

F (the guy who wouldn’t stop shadowboxing) : I sat in the middle of a long bench in the middle of a long F train. Across from me, one t-shirt-clad, long-haired guy and all of his belongings took up enough space for three people. The young man was jiggling a foot and staring at himself in the reflection of the subway window. I didn’t think anything of it until he began to shadowbox. Jab, jab…punch. A short sequence, and his hands returned to his sides. Two minutes passed, then more jabbing and more punching. A few head ducks worked their way in. The train slowly took on more commuters, bodies filling in the spaces left open for seating. A few women sat near him, unawares… until his fists were raised. The looks of confusion on their faces were followed by furtive glances around the car for communal acknowledgment. Some giggled, some frowned. I smiled a small smile. None of which deterred the shadowboxer, who continued to work on his form every few minutes, critical of his reflection in the window until he exited the train.

Love. And Other Drugs.

I was riding the J home today around 7:30 PM. I had music on, headphones in. Flicking through shuffle, unsatisfied. I happened to look up from where I was standing, leaning against a pole near the door, to see a well-dressed man in a suit concernedly frowning at something going on to my left. I turned my head. A youngish guy, somewhere around 20, flat brim ball cap facing forwards; red, black, and white Nikes – only moderately beat up; was leaning down to talk to a seated man, well-worn cap on, leather jacket, Blackberry in hand that had seen better days. I did not remove my headphones. I saw an older woman seated on the opposite side of the train watching the conversation. Her eyebrows raised. I looked back at the well-dressed man. Still watching the conversation to my left with great concern. I turned back. Young guy seemed a bit twitchy. With dirty fingernails, every few seconds he’d scratch his face. I noticed from the way the seated man used his hands, he seemed to be talking with serious tone. I became curious. As I removed my left ear bud, I heard the young guy hurriedly thank the seated man for talking to him, and he reached to shake hands. After the handshake, the young man scurried off. I glanced down at the seated man. He made eye contact with me and shook his head.

“I don’t know what that was about. And I don’t know who he was talking to, if you know what I mean. He was high as shit. You see him scratch his face like that? He is asking folks for money, for help, when as soon as he gets some, he’s gonna go run to his crack dealer. Or whatever. I told him if he really wanted help, I could get him a place to stay, right now, right away, but he don’t want that. He’s gotta want to get better.”

The older woman silently nodded her head in agreement. The well-dressed man dropped his stare and opened his newspaper. I continued to talk to the seated man until his phone rang. And I wished him a good night as I exited the train at my stop.

Unfortunately, sanity isn’t always contagious.

At 4:45 AM on Saturday, October 30, I rolled up to Citi Field in Queens, NY in the back of a black cab. Yawning and shivering with two friends, we joined a slowly growing mass of people anxiously waiting to board the free Huffington Post buses headed to Washington DC for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, the collaborative rally effort of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

4:45 AM makes everyone look good.

After a moderately painful bus ride down to our nation’s capital (sleeping upright is rough, especially when said seat is right next to the bus bathroom), we emerged excited, albeit sleep deprived, but ready to join the throttle of like-minded individuals in town just for the rally. Though we could barely hear what anyone was saying from the stage, just being in and amongst all of the sign-wielding people was enough to make the entire trip worth it. The energy, electric; the crowd, engaged. I took a minute to have a thought completely inside my head while standing among my peers – ‘this doesn’t happen every day, or even every election. This is special, and people really do still care.’

The signs were an amazing presence, everything from serious, heartfelt messages to.. well.. ‘Don’t Be a Dick.’ I took way too many pictures to post, but again, the fact that there were so many captions scraggled on poster board that incited the urge to click off photo after photo felt oddly unifying. I got these people.

Amen.

Spot on.

Well played.

I left Washington DC that day (oh yes, I spent more hours on a bus that day than I did on the ground in DC) with a feeling of something like hope. My friends and I, along with approximately 200,000 others like us, made the effort to get to DC, to mingle and meet, and to try to drum up some spirit with election day looming.

And then November 2 came.

I sit here on November 4 unabashedly ashamed and disgusted. Maybe my peers and I voted for the most moderate folks we could find on the ballot, but the rest of America seemed to get their political information from those always charming campaign ads. Without really understanding the issues or what candidates stood for (do not get me started about tax cuts), people kicked incumbents out, left and right (half-pun), just because it might provide the sense that things could be different.

I live in NYC now, but I voted absentee ballot for Pennsylvania, my home state in which I am still registered. I figured PA needed my help, especially with Pat Toomey on the ballot. Pennsylvania did need my help, but my help wasn’t enough, because Pat Toomey, a man who is Pro-life, pro forest thinning, in support of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, advocates reducing gun regulations, and voted to amend the US Constitution to ban same-sex marriage (I’m not sure everyone understand that that means CHANGING THE CONSTITUTION), is going to represent Pennsylvania in the US Senate.

Mixed feelings.

What a depressing election on the heels of one of the most exciting politically-charged events I’ve ever been a part of. Bittersweet seems appropriate, but the sweet part isn’t all that strong.

Rabble-rousing.

Ah yes, grumbling for change. The “rabble rabble” is one of my favorite things I’ve ever seen on South Park. It is so unbelievably accurate to real life, I can’t help but shake my head and chortle (Yes, I said chortle). It’s always fun to see people getting their panties in a bundle without any legitimate expression. (Did someone say Tea Party? Oh.)

People rabble-rabble in new ways as technology evolves, namely on 24-hour TV news outlets and of course, the internet. Sometimes they really do come together to say something that someone or some entity has to take heed of.

Here’s an incredibly recent example. Basically (if you only skimmed or are refusing to click the link), the Gap (the US clothes retailer known for its catchy commercial ad campaigns and wide array of khakis), attempted to change its logo but had to completely scrap the idea just one week after introducing it to the public. Why? Rabble-rousing online! More than 2,000 angry comments were plastered on the Gap’s Facebook page, with many commenters outright demanding the old logo be reinstated.

I mean it is pretty lame.

In a statement released on the Gap’s website, Marka Hansen, president of Gap Brand North America, said “We’ve been listening to and watching all of the comments this past week. We heard them say over and over again they are passionate about our blue box logo, and they want it back … So we’ve made the decision to do just that – we will bring it back across all channels.”

Best line in that posted statement – The Gap “missed the opportunity to engage with the online community”.

Clearly!

The “online community”, what a very “now” term. But I have a bone to pick with said community. So yes, I think a lot of rabble-rousing and rabble-rabblers are full of horse shi… hot air, but I do think it’s phenomenal how stories can be called to the forefront of our every day lives if enough attention is paid or I suppose, if enough noise is made. The Gap’s logo drama is a perfect example of this, but I knew of a story in August that I thought for sure would have been completely torn apart online and eventually in the newsrooms that is only being addressed now.

Changing gears a bit, but this is where I read how much of a creep Brett Favre is.

Hey.. that's not your wife.. although she looks a lot like her..

This Favre-sent-naughty-text-photos story was posted on Deadspin (not a reputable news source per say, but certainly a high traffic site) in August, and yet this story is really only breaking to the public now. August to October is a lifetime when it comes to news. We forget about stories in mere days (something happened in Haiti?). I’m at a loss for how no one or no collective of online rabble-rousers capitalized or publicized a controversy like this. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s strange that no one was talking about Favre’s skeevy texts to a Jets-affiliated woman (Favre is married, remember) after all of Tiger Woods’s drama, but the Gap logo change is a call to arms.

Favre must have some magical PR workers. Or something. I don’t know. Rabble, rabble, rabble.

Fading nostalgia for the near-recent past.

glorious.

I was able to trek back to Happy Valley this past weekend to tailgate,  catch a Penn State football game, and roar through some of my favorite local watering holes. A group of my friends and I were all able to finagle trains, planes and automobiles to get ourselves into town together for the first time in quite a while. It had been almost a year since I’d been to State College, and on my (alarmingly unsafe) return bus trip to NYC, I realized something personally shocking – State College doesn’t feel like home anymore.

I fell in love with State College in my second year of living there. I returned to my hometown of Pittsburgh only the summer after my freshman year. After that summer I moved myself permanently to Centre County. Without hesitation I can say I love Pittsburgh, but it’s a different kind of love, a familial kind almost. I was born and raised there, my family is still very much rooted there, and just driving through the city and surrounding suburbs is akin to putting on a favorite raggedy sweatshirt. Pittsburgh has always been a constant; State College was the first place I could call my own.

"united" doesn't do it justice.

The sports, the intensity, the sweeping willingness to always have a good time – those are only a few elements that make up my love for State College. In leaving my childhood home, I found a town in which I became me. Happy Valley embraced me, skidded my knee (in reality, tore my ACL, but that’s a story for a different time), built up my wind chill tolerance, and alternately forced me to sweat out thoughts and dreams over long, hazy summers.

During my PSU trip a year ago, my heart swelled to near burst when I stepped foot in downtown State College. I saw gaggles of friends and stayed on the couches of people who hadn’t yet graduated or moved on. It felt natural, it felt right. My trip this past weekend was altogether different – there were no impromptu reunions and no couches were available, as my friends finally did graduate and move on. I felt like a visitor; an alumni, not a resident.

Returning to NYC on Sunday night, I was simply excited. I’m not sure it felt like coming home, but it felt right all the same. I fell in and out of love with a small town in Pennsylvania, and now I’m flirting and dancing with a big city. There’s so much to learn, to try, to taste, to dig into, and I’m blown away by the prospect of it all.

hell of a view.

Refusing to go gently.

I’m sitting in my office, and sweat is running streams down my body. I’m trying not to move, but I can feel it trickling down my spine, semi-puddling under my forearms. Gross.

Sweating isn’t really my issue – it’s more of an overall sense of discontentment. I’ve hit a wall, and I despise this feeling, the feeling of burnout. I’m not sure where I read this so I can’t accredit the quote, but here’s the line: “Burnout is like a candle that once glowed brightly, began to flicker, and eventually extinguished.”

Word.

Burnout happens very notably to athletes (from tiny, overworked 11-year-old gymnasts to Hall of Fame-caliber ballplayers), but clearly burnout isn’t relegated only to the athletic arena. I think it’s particularly interesting that a kind of scale exists for measuring burnout (Maslach Burnout Inventory), as I’m not sure how you can quantify something so subjective. At any rate, the Maslach Burnout Inventory weighs the effects of emotional exhaustion and reduced sense of personal accomplishment based on ‘exhaustion’, ‘cynicism’, and ‘inefficacy’. Blah blah scientific terminology blah, but clearly people have been trying to get a handle on the mysterious, amorphous burnout for decades.

Why do we drift into apathy? How does it happen? When do people reach the point where their life force feels completely depleted?

For athletes, although it is not cut and dry, burnout is often more directly linked to physical exhaustion and whether the athlete is involved in a sport out of willingness or a feeling of entrapment. No surprise that athletes who feel like they have to be involved in a sport generally burnout quicker and/or more often than those who want to be involved.

Obligation versus choice. Maybe it’s a little more cut and dry than I first thought. I love a good fight, a tough assignment, a seemingly immovable object – but I want to willingly go after these things.

I think my favorite term I’ve come across in researching burnout is ‘flow’.  The opposite of apathy is flow. According to the world’s most respected online reference Wikipedia, “flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.” (Tip of the cap to whoever penned that entry, actually. )

Seriously. Never.

Flow is what I’m striving toward, what I yearn for. To hell with burnout. Get away from my candle.


Put me in, coach.

I thought it fitting to provide the world with ABC/ESPN’s Joe Paterno montage from 2008, as College Football slams back into action this weekend. JoePa has become not only synonymous with the Pennsylvania State University, but with College Football as well.  Paterno has held his position at PSU since 1966,  and in that time he has acquired the record for the most victories by an FBS football coach and has more bowl game victories than any other coach in collegiate football history. His numbers will certainly live on in dusty record books (or on dusty hard drives, I suppose), but it is his demeanor and his spirit that cannot be contained by simple statistics.

The best coaches are like that. They have the it factor, the ineffable thing that makes young men and women willing to follow and be shaped. How do we describe the ‘best’ coaches? Do we measure them by their records, or their effect on those who passed under them? Of course it is both when coaches are considered in historical perspective, but the true effect they imprint on the lives of men and women, from grasshopper soccer league to elite level competition, is where their greatness (or the genius) lies.

Here are two other examples:

PAT SUMMITT

She was offered the Tennessee men's head coaching job but turned it down, saying it would be a 'lateral move'. God, I love this woman.

Pat Summitt is currently the Tennessee Lady Vols Women’s Basketball head coach. Summitt is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, men or women in any division. She is also one of only three collegiate coaches with 1,000 victories.

“She taught me that it’s OK to let down your guard and allow your players to get to know you. They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Pat Summitt

JOHN WOODEN

RIP

John Wooden (1910-2010), was the first person ever to be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. While at the helm at UCLA, he led the Bruins to 10 national championships in 12 seasons – a feat unmatched by any other college basketball coach.

“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.” – John Wooden

—-

Coaches drum up the sometimes-dormant passion in all of us. They can coax out the last inch, the last breath – down to the last bead of sweat – athletes have within themselves. But I think a coach’s reach extends beyond the lines, out of the locker room and sweat-stinking weight rooms into the stands, the TV sets and, most importantly, the hearts and souls of the fans, who stand behind their leaders with as much vigor as any competitor.

Hurts so good.

I certainly hope so.

I woke up today with what felt like two grapefruit-sized knots in my back, sitting betwixt my shoulder blades (otherwise known as the trapezius muscles, for you kinesiology/anatomy nerds). This in and of itself isn’t strange. The strange thing is that I liked it.

Though I wrote about cracking a ball on the sweet spot of a bat, and though I was sore this morning from old school gymnastics exercises I foolishly decided to try, I no longer consider myself an athlete. I exist on the periphery of that world nowadays with what I’d call ‘athletic tendencies’, but I still think it’s incredibly interesting to consider how athletes vs. non-athletes view pain.

These are personal musings; I’m not backing this up with research studies or what have you, but here’s my perspective. From my experiences on and off the field, I have found that a large number of athletes (present and former) seek out and subsequently thrive on pain of some kind. Or at least they willingly accept that pain is a necessary constant in their lives. It’s just something else to battle through. Let’s take a look at some quotes you’re likely to find on the walls of locker rooms across the country:

“Pain is nothing compared to what it feels like to quit. ”

“Pain is temporary, pride is forever.”

“Suffer now and live the rest of your life a champion.”

Does the end justify the pain? Does the end even matter? I’m not sure it does. There is indeed a goal, but the process is what counts. The fight, the grind – the fact that it sucked and you still persevered – that is what athletes thrive on. I know I do.

This is not to say that all athletes feel this way, and I’m not lumping every human who didn’t happen to play an organized sport into one clump either. There is just a gap between the psyche of athletes and non-athletes when it comes to facing pain. Sometimes I think pain is taken too lightly in the athletic arena – there is generally a reason you feel pain, pain is there to tell you something, like maybe stop, you just tore your ACL. There are so many moments in sports history where an athlete has pushed through a legitimate injury just to finish, just to say that he or she did it. Therein lies the glory, and the feeling of being a champion.

Who could forget this... or hearing her voice for the first time.

All I know is I can’t shake the feeling that if I go home and do push-ups until my arms collapse, I’m going to enjoy every second of it.

The Sweet Spot

Legitimately me. Boom.

Nothing feels better than connecting with a pitch on the sweet spot of your bat. If you haven’t experienced it, I suggest you find your nearest batting cage and get to swingin’.

Hitting the sweet spot feels delicious – it’s almost indescribable. I think there are similar ‘sweet spots’ in life, but they certainly don’t appear or take place every day.

Today is a special day, though, because I have a fat pitch coming right down the pipe (in the form of a job I legitimately can’t wait to take part in), and I’m swinging away. The moment I step onto the set (where said gig is taking place), I know that satisfying feeling  I’ve been longing for will drape itself around me – the feeling of connecting with something in stride, at just the right moment, in just the right place.

I can’t wait.