The Tragedy of Hungry Howie’s – Part II

June 12, 2018

Hungry-Howies_company_fullIt was a simple plan really. It required three things: 1) a dozen water balloons, 2) a big garbage can full of water, and 3) another pizza delivery from Hungry Howie’s. There may have been a few eggs involved but I don’t remember if any of us had any eggs. Maybe we just talked about eggs. And looking back, what college kid has a dozen eggs? They certainly would have come in useful!  

Other than Tyler and I, I remember at least two and possibly as many as four other guys being involved in these hijinks. My good friend Matt, who I am still friends with to this day, this guy Aaron, maybe this other guy Steve, and a different Tyler who lived down the hall. I can’t remember everyone exactly but there were enough “other guys” to form a small crew. Like something from a George Clooney movie only not as polished and also broke as fuck. Idiots 5 or something like that. And we all went along with this dumb plan because what else did we have to do? It was Sunday and none of us had homework or jobs to go to. We needed something to kill the time.

We devised our revenge, we idiots from that wing of Smith Hall who happened to be around that day. Just a crew of jerkwads who were going to take out their frustrations (really, did we have any legitimate frustrations?) on some poor pizza delivery guy who had nothing to do with screwing up our order. And always remember, we ate every last bite.

The important part of this operation was where we positioned that garbage can full of water. And I’m not talking about the small waste paper basket in your dorm room, but the larger streetcorner trash barrel, the 55 gallon sucker where you dumped all your empty beer cases and liquor bottles. We emptied that thing our and filled it almost all the way to the top with water. Don’t think we rinsed it out or anything. It was about 50 gallons of gross, ice-cold garbage water.

It was Florida, so everything was outside. The stairs that led from the parking lot to the first floor of the dorms, the walkway that turned left and headed to the stairs that went up to the second floor, and a concrete landing at the top of the stairs that led into the building. Even the callbox, a small rectangular box with a dial pad you’d use to call certain dorm rooms using a 4-digit code (we all had actual plug-in telephones in those days!) All of this was outside and all of this was accessible by pizza-delivery guys. They’d usually park in front of the building, walk up the stairs, take a left and GO UNDER THE SECOND FLOOR LANDING and head to the callbox to phone the correct room.

At that second-floor landing is where we placed that garbage bin. It was the perfect trap. Just as he turned left to head to the callbox he’d be smashed with a freezing waterfall and then the water balloons would come out as he retreated soaking wet to his car. “How funny will it be?” Tyler snickered. “Good old delivery man will return to Hungry Howie’s soaking wet to tell his manager that the boys at Smith Hall got him back for not fixing that crummy pizza order!”

It was just way too funny to him but we all went along with it because we were stupid dumb idiots who thought ‘why the fuck not?’

More about this guy Tyler who I knew for just a few months.  

Tyler and I did not get along as roommates. We eventually got into a huge fight a few weeks after the pizza incident because he decided to move two rooms down the hall yet REFUSED to relinquish the key to what was now my room. So for two or three days, Tyler was back and forth between two dorm rooms. I couldn’t tell if he was still moving out or exactly where he’d be. Coming into my room to get his laundry, or hanging out two rooms away in his new room, or coming in to grab shaving cream. I couldn’t figure out exactly what the fuck was going on except that Tyler basically had two dorm rooms: his regular room and a storage closet where I happened to live. I was having it no more! I remember Matt (my good friend Matt who I bonded with almost instantly) sitting in my room during my final confrontation with Tyler. Matt’s presence was an act of support meant to show Tyler that the people of Smith Hall were on my side. It was a gesture I never really thanked Matt for but have appreciated ever since.

“Tyler, you moved out,” I said. “It’s time to turn over the key.”

Matt say on the recliner across the room, listening quietly. Of course Tyler got pretty pissy about my demand for the keys. “I’m still moving my stuff out! Why you getting so pissy?”

“Because you have two fucking rooms. So pick one and stay there. If you don’t live here, you can’t have a key.” He threw a fit about it or acted like I was unreasonable, I don’t exactly remember. But I do remember earlier that day taking what remained of his stuff, which I believe amounted to one laundry basket with a pile of unwashed clothes, and placing it in the hall where it sat for several hours.

Well, you see I wasn’t Tyler’s only enemy. Someone else who lived in that dorm saw Tyler’s stuff in the hallway and spat and big glob of chew onto those dirty clothes. And tried to make it as obvious as possible that it was no accident. Tyler was livid!

“Someone spat tobacco juice all over my fucking clothes that YOU put in the hallway!” he yelled at me.

“Then maybe you should have put them in YOUR room!”

Tyler was obviously blaming me for the unnamed citizen who heroically spat chew on his clothes. But hey, it happened in the hallway so it was out of my jurisdiction and Tyler knew it. In a bout of frustrated defeat, Tyler yanked the dorm room key off his keychain and threw it at me before storming out of the room. I now had a room to myself for the rest of the year and an extra key. Matt rolled his eyes, shook his head. But Tyler was gone. He would drop out of college a few weeks later.    

I tell you this not because I need to show that Tyler was eventually bested, though I guess that’s part of it. Nor to show that he was a bad person, because he wasn’t. This only illustrates that Tyler, while a central person in this story, was not a hero doing a heroic deed. But that he was just a young kid trying to find his place and fit in. It was just weeks into our freshman year. None of us even really knew each other. We were just four or five kids who, through coincidence and proximity, found ourselves engaging in an act that would (while stupid) somehow make us closer and provide a sense of belonging and inclusion that any young kid away from home would want.  

I wasn’t doing this to get back at Hungry Howie’s. None of us were. We were doing this because we thought we would make friends. I think that, deep down, the other boys in the group probably felt the same.

Back to Operation Pizza Guy.

We fucked it up. Not even close to what we planned.

Tyler called Hungry Howie’s and ordered another pizza, but that was about the only thing we got right. Then we all got into position. I was on lookout, right at the top of the stairs that pizza guy would climb after he parked. I would be able to see him coming and then signal up to Tyler and Matt, who were ready to tip the garbage bin from the second floor landing. Around the far corner of the building, beyond the callbox, Aaron and the rest of the gang were armed with a bucket of water balloons. I also had a small armory of water balloons that I could fire from my spot once the guy made it back to his car.

We were all set for an onslaught of water and adolescent revenge. So we waited.

And waited. And eventually a tiny red Ford Escort rolled into the lot and parked in place just before the stairs. Just as planned. I don’t know why the rest went so wrong. Maybe we weren’t watching for the pizza guy and just weren’t ready. Maybe he moved too fast. But when he arrived, he didn’t even go to the callbox. He was unfamiliar with the setup of our dorm rooms and wasn’t sure where to bring the pizza. I remember him wandering this way and that. Didn’t he know he was supposed to just walk under the landing and go to the callbox? Then everything would work out as planned!

But no, he didn’t. I think he may have knocked on a completely different door. And he did eventually walk under the landing, the big water bin was heavier than expected and it took the guys too long to turn it on its side. Water came crashing down, but pizza guy had long since cleared the landing and was already on the other side. In fact, the water dumpage was such a colossal miss that when the water crashed down and splashed onto the pavement, I don’t think he even noticed.

He eventually found the callbox and rang our room, but there was nobody there to pick up. Sensing something was amiss, the pizza guy turned around and walked away, probably hearing our frustrated whispering to each other as we tried to salvage the operation.

Our water balloon men were grossly out of position. I personally didn’t fire a single shot. The guy eventually made his way back to his car, set the pizza in the front seat, got in and started to drive away. Aaron ran out to the parking lot and launched a single water balloon as he drove away, only to see the balloon splatter uselessly onto the pavement behind the escaping car.

I was appalled. One water balloon? That splashed uselessly in the parking lot, probably unnoticed. It was like waiting for a hurricane only to get 10 minutes of cloudy skies. Frustrated and disappointed, we regrouped back in the dorm room and debriefed our miserable failure.

“We weren’t ready, we just have to time it better next time.” One person said.

“We need a backup plan in case he takes a different route to the door,” said someone else.

We had different ideas for our specific tactics but we all agreed we were going to try it again and get it right this time.  Tyler picked up the phone and called Hungry Howie’s.

“I’d like to order a small cheese pizza please,” he said while we all watched. “Smith Hall,” he said. Holding the phone at his ear, Tyler squinted at what he heard. “What do you mean you’re not doing anymore deliveries to Smith Hall?” He listened for a moment then said, “Well then fuck you!” and hung up.

“What did he say?” we all wondered.

Tyler sighed. “He said they’re not delivering pizzas to Smith Hall anymore today because that last driver mentioned some complaints about…water?”

We were crushed. No more pizza deliveries today? What were we going to do? We had our second strike all planned out. The failure of the first would only make the second more precise. We knew what to expect now. We had this shit DOWN, and now Hungry Howie’s was pulling out of the operation and messing up all our plans. We had so many water balloons left over. And an weapon unused is a useless weapon.

We all sat there dumbfounded and disappointed.

“What do we do now?”

“Easy,” Tyler said as he reached for the phone book. “We order from Domino’s.”

We looked at each other. We nodded. It was on.

To be continued…

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The Tragedy of Hungry Howie’s – Part I

June 9, 2018

Hungry-Howies_company_full.jpgThis is probably the worst thing you could ever do to a pizza guy. In fact, it might be the worst thing I’ve ever done to a person. And looking back, in the grand scheme of all the horrible things that have happened in the world, it’s not like I started a dumb, pointless war, or went on a 5-state killing spree. Not yet. But I still feel pretty bad about this one, I really do. No, it’s not a war or a murder or even a crime. I mean, I guess one could argue that there were a few petty violations of the law, even a case for assault, and most definitely an example of civil disobedience but at the time, I placed it in the category called Typical Crap That College Kids Find Themselves Doing on a Boring Sunday Afternoon When They Should Be Doing Homework But Are Slackers Instead.

You may know the category I speak of, or one like it. There is a similar category for working-world adults called Typical Crap Adults Find Themselves Doing on a Boring Tuesday When They Should Be Working But Are Bored. These things might be playing games on your phone, going for a walk, surfing the web, or staring blankly out the window.

Sure, there is always better shit to do, but on that particular Sunday a certain situation presented itself and we took full advantage, amusing ourselves to no end.

And here I am in my early 40’s still thinking about what our boredom meant for that poor pizza guy with the bushy brown hair and pizza-delivery-man jacket. I honestly can’t remember much else about him other than his hair and jacket, but what I do remember is that there were two pizza places that delivered to our dorm Smith Hall at Stetson University in Florida. National chain Domino’s Pizza and small local player Hungry Howie’s. Having multiple pizza options will be important later in the story.

Allow me to set the stage. I was a freshman at that small university in Central Florida and it was early in the first semester, September or October I believe. I can pinpoint the time because my roommate Tyler was a key player in this story, and he lasted all of two months before dropping out and doing whatever life called him to do at that moment. So I know it happened within those first couple of months. Anyway, it was Sunday, we were bored and hungry, so we ordered a pizza from Hungry Howie’s. Hungry Howie’s because they were close to the college and gave poor college kids a deal. It was like $8 for two pizzas or something. Plus $2 for tip. A couple college kids could usually scrounge up $10 for two pizzas so it was a good deal.

I don’t remember if the pizzas were just for Tyler and me, or if our neighbors in the next dorm room were in on the deal, but there are two important things here: 1) several college guys were involved and 2) Hungry Howie’s screwed up our order. But what did we do? We ate the pizza anyway and once we were finished with all of it, only then did Tyler call to complain. Who is so bored to call and complain about a pizza after eating the pizza? Couldn’t we have just played video games or put on some TV? Well, no because none of us had a video game system and what kind of TV was worth watching on Sunday afternoon before Netflix?

I distinctly remember not being behind this complaint call to Hungry Howie’s. It was completely Tyler’s idea but did I try and stop him? Well, no because I thought it was pointless and wouldn’t lead to anything. Boy was I wrong! As expected, the manager told us to bring back the pizzas and he would give us a refund, and as expected Tyler, the smart man that he was that day, told the manager we had already eaten the pizzas. So of course the manager said “Too bad, hope you enjoyed the pizza, go away.” Of course there would be no refund! It was obvious. Time to move on.

But what happened next took my Sunday on a twist that I never expected, and on a course that quickly got out of hand. Tyler declared war on Hungry Howie’s. You have to know a few things about Tyler. You see, Tyler felt easily slighted and personally offended over the smallest things. His father was a doctor who lived in a big mansion near the campus and many of us wondered why Tyler would ever move away from there to live in the dorms just two blocks away. Tyler answered, “Dorm life’s cool!”

And he declared this during the first week of school, which made me wonder how a college freshman of one-week with no older sibling could know anything about dorm life? Tyler was just that kind of a character. I remember he called me over the summer before school started, at my home in Minnesota before we ever met, after our roommate assignments had been handed out. He saw I would be his roommate so he decided to call and get to know me first. A friendly and thoughtful gesture. I remember on that phone call he told me, “We need to have a fridge in our dorm room. We need to keep the beer cold, right?”

So I bought a fridge and brought it to the room, proudly showing it to Tyler on Day One to declare, “To keep the beer cold!” But Tyler surprised me by dismissing the gesture with a casual, “Oh, I don’t drink.”

“Huh?” I remember thinking. Why hype up a beer-fridge if you don’t even drink? Are you just trying to fit in? I knew from Day One that Tyler was a bullshit artist. But what could I do but enjoy my fridge (I still own that fridge and almost 25 years years later, it’s still in perfect operation). So Tyler would just say shit and do shit, because he had nothing better to say or do. In just a few short months, Tyler would disappear from my life forever but my memory of him is based almost entirely around that war he started against Hungry Howie’s discount pizza joint in DeLand, Florida…

To be continued….

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Minneapolis Running and Yahoo! Entertainment. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Mark lives in Minneapolis with his wife and daughter. 

 


Why We (Still) Hide Cookies From My Dad

May 1, 2018

This is mostly a true story. If my dad doesn’t know about all this, people will be mad. 

My mom used to have to hide cookies from my dad, otherwise he would eat all of them before anyone else had a chance to. To my knowledge, she does this to this day even though the kids have moved out of the house and it’s now just the two of them living in retirement. I guess he’d still eat all the cookies if only he knew there were some in the house.

She had a secret hiding spot in the dining room, under a spare chair that rested against the wall just outside the kitchen. We hardly ever used this dining room – for anything. Maybe for Thanksgiving dinner, or Christmas. But usually we just ate in the kitchen. We didn’t even use that room to store things, or to work or read. It was just a an unused dining room, with silverware hidden away and a decanter that was seemingly empty every time I saw it. And this room wasn’t on the way to any other rooms, so there was never really any reason to go into it. It was just tucked away in the back corner, clean and unused, waiting to entertain the upper-middle class souls who every so often decided to fancy things up and actually live the upper-middle class life they worked so hard to maintain. I remember it was always quiet in that dining room. It had a good view of the backyard and acres of undeveloped woods beyond, and was nice in the winter when the snow covered the grass and small groups of deer wandered by to eat our bushes. But other than for the view, and the occasional holiday dinner, I never went into that room.

Unless I wanted a cookie.

It was a secret I kept with my mother the entire time I lived in that house – I left for college after high school – and have not spoken of until now. She knew that I loved cookies. What child didn’t? Vienna fingers. Chocolate chip. Oreo. And even her special Christmas cookies that she made every year. She knew how much I loved those things. And she also knew that my dad would devour every last one as quickly as his teeth would chomp before anyone else even knew they existed. He had set records for how quickly he could go through a package of cookies. So fast that the dad to kid cookie consumption ratio was roughly fifty to one. And he’d often be scolded for eating all the cookies. “Jerry!” he mother would snap. “You ate the entire package and I only had two!” And Jerry would shrug his shoulders and mumble something about how she shouldn’t be buying them in the first place and that they needed to set a better example by only consuming fruits and vegetables. Then he’d open the pantry and search for whatever remained of the potato chip bag he had nearly crushed by himself the night before.

So my mother would wink at me and nod and when my father would disappear to bed, or would go to work, or be out playing racquetball, she’d inform me that there was a fresh pack of cookies under that spare chair in the dining room and that I could go in there and get one whenever I wanted. “I bought you some Vienna Fingers,” she’d say. “Don’t tell your father,” (as if I needed the reminder).

Sometimes she would leave half a box of cookies in the kitchen as a decoy so that Jerry would be tricked into thinking those were the only cookies. He’d usually eat what was there but it wouldn’t matter. “That half box is just to throw him off the trail of the real supply hiding in the next room,” Mom would say.

The secret cookie stash would nearly always be there, regardless of what was in the main pantry in the kitchen. Our supplies could be nearly empty and we’d be in need of a weekly store trip, yet there would still be half a box of Nilla wafers under that chair. She used to place folders and phone books and things there, to disguise the cookies so it just looked like any pile of stuff the father of the house would usually ignore. But he had no reason to ignore it – he simply never went into that room. It was literally the best hiding spot in the house!

And so my mother and brother and I would have our secret lot of cookies that were ours for years and years. When she’d make her famous Christmas cookies, good old Jerry knew there would be plenty of those available for consumption, and Christmas gave him the excuse to overindulge, yet Mom would place a few dozen of them into a secret cookie tin and stick them under that chair. Dad’s attention would be drawn to the cookies in the kitchen – the decoys. Token cookies left in plain view that he was free to eat at will. The REAL stash of Christmas cookies was safe in the next room.

She would use this same trick years later after they retired and lived together in a house in Florida. I didn’t really pick up this until my daughter Avery told me about an interaction she had with her grandparents during a visit to Florida. “Abuela has a container of peanut M&Ms in her office in a little  ashtray. There’s a picture of YOU in the ashtray, Dada,  but Abuela said it’s to make the ashtray look like it’s holding a stack of photos.”

“I put this photo of your father on top,” my mom told my kid. “But underneath, the dish is filled with my own secret stash of peanut M&Ms.” She’d lift the photo to reveal a small stash of peanut M&Ms. 

“Shh, don’t tell your grandfather!”

Because on a shelf at the opposite side of the office, was a big jar of peanut M&Ms. Jerry had one just like it in HIS office at the other end of the house.

“He’ll finish all his M&Ms,” grandma would explain to granddaughter. “And then he comes in here and eats all of mine!”

So she kept a secret stash of M&Ms in the ash tray and made Avery PROMISE not to tell Granddaddy.

And if I’m visiting, she lets me steal an M&M or two too. But I try to stick to the M&Ms in that main jar. I don’t want to take any of Mom’s. She has a hard enough time getting her sugar fix as is it, and doesn’t need me hurting her cause. Yet if I did take an M&M from her secret stash, she wouldn’t hardly get mad. She might fake slap me and tell me to go away. But if my dad went in there and took her last M&M you’d want to steer clear of the house for at least a few hours. She would get so mad at him and yell and start cussing in Spanish. And then Jerry would wander away quietly mumbling that she needed to stop buying those things anyway and then head to the kitchen to see if there were any cookies to be found. There was usually half a box, staged brilliantly, and nothing but a decoy.  

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Minneapolis Running and Yahoo! Entertainment. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards. Mark lives in Minneapolis with his wife and daughter. 


Silent Bus Ride

January 4, 2018

Disclaimer: roughly 95% of this story is true. I won’t tell you which parts aren’t but they’re very minor and only meant to clarify certain moments. This means I’m using real names – but only three of them. And respectfully, I hope. I wasn’t able to track down Efe (pronounced EFF-ee like F-Bomb) to see if he’d approve of this story but my guess is that he’d find it enjoyable. If you find him, let him know he’s been immortalized in this blog post. And if he wants me to take this post down then he’s just a big baby.  

Silent Bus Ride
by Mark McGinty

Efe was crazy. And by crazy I mean crazy funny. Sure, he had his serious side but for the most part, he was a big cut-up. Class clown type of guy. Always doing impressions of famous people, or our teachers. Talked about one day being on Saturday Night Live and probably could have been but like me, and most kids of Generation X, he was more interested in laughing with his friends then pursuing a serious career in acting or comedy.

And this is a story about two things. One: laughter. That uncontrollable laughter that erupts from your body loudly and obnoxiously, before it can be contained, so that it disrupts the people at the next table and causes them to look over to see what is so damn funny. And two: a situation where laughing out loud can have dire, life-altering consequences.

But Efe. He was one funny guy. You could hang out with him for an afternoon and never stop laughing. It was almost like he existed purely to make you laugh. And he knew this. He was one of those guys that at age 16 had already discovered his mission in life – making people laugh. The funniest thing he ever did took place on the silent bus ride to one of our high school football games. Yes, that’s correct – a Silent Bus Ride. For anyone who has not played high school football, allow me to educate you on the extreme reverence we football plays all observed while in transit to this most important high school attraction. Yeah, I know it’s like a multi-billion dollar sport and the Super Bowl is always like the most watched event of all time every single year. But c’mon. I’m talking about high school kids here. Many of whom are playing high school football simply to be part of the team and to get in to all the best, and often most of the worst parties. But there are some elite players who may make a short career out of football or even get a scholarship or make their dads very VERY proud. I recognized at that age, age 16 or so, that I was involved in a sport that is taken very seriously! Almost too seriously at times, but I did my best to respect the game and keep my real opinions to myself.  

Because to guys like Efe and me, high school football was just a convenient way to fit into a larger social group while fooling the casual observer into thinking we were actually in it to experience the allure and adrenaline that came from being under those Friday night lights. Which was pretty cool when there was a large crowd there watching. And there was usually always a large crowd watching, because this is a very serious passtime.  Truth was, Efe and I were minor players and barely saw the playing field. I think I probably played in 3 or 4 games at the varsity level, and only for a few plays at a time or when the score was extremely lopsided. I wasn’t getting a scholarship and I knew that wearing the uniform was enough to make my parents proud. Looking back at it all, I don’t think I ever really cared about the game, no matter how hard I tried to convince myself that I did. I cared about the parties, and sitting at the right lunch table and not getting my ass kicked by bullies. I had dealt with that in middle school and figured football was an easy way to inoculate myself from the pain and frustration. It worked, so I followed the rules and acted like I really, truly, honestly cared.

Because a lot of these boys did care. The coaches certainly cared. The rest of the faculty and student body seemed to care. And I know the alumni, the dads and former football players who were writing the donation checks definitely cared. So we took it seriously. All of us did. Even when we didn’t really care. Because not taking it seriously meant you got yelled at (by coaches, other players, fans and those dead-serious alumni), or worse….not taking it seriously could get you kicked off the team, bullied and discharged from society.

And that meant missing out on all those fancy high school parties.

Before each game, after a week of grueling practice that built up to those climactic Friday nights, the entire team would pack into a school bus, seating two players to a seat, and ride to whatever stadium would be illuminated for the big battle. And there was one BIG rule that everyone followed as strictly as any rule I’ve ever encountered. The entire bus ride was to be silent. Not a word could be spoken. It was heads down, eyes closed, locked in deep meditation about your role. Remembering your plays. Talking yourself into a fire, a burning wad of venom ready to douse your opponents and melt them into puddles of chalky Friday night mud. Each and every Silent Bus Ride took place immediately after Coach Slater’s pre-game speech.

Prior to boarding the bus, after we were in our uniforms with pads in place and helmets in hand, we all filed into the school gymnasium – which was almost completely dark – and laid quietly on our backs. I had only seen the gymnasium so dark on the night of parent-teacher conferences, when you’d wander down the dark and empty halls exploring the school that looked so different when it was devoid of children and faculty. No slamming lockers, no shuffling feet, no teasing voices or laughter, no teachers telling us to knock it off, or to “Step lively!” and hurry up and get to class. All classrooms were dark and locked. All lockers were shut. There was no one around. I’d crack open the door to the gym and peer inside, only to see complete darkness. A silence the high school gymnasium has never known.

That’s the gym we all gathered in before each game. Dark and silent and sacred. Like a Catholic church on Monday morning. Just us, the football players, our coaches, and our thoughts. Serious meditation time. Though there were probably 50 of us, as I laid on that floor on my back, surrounded by football pads with my helmet resting beside me, I felt like I was all alone in the dark. Waiting for something to happen. Never knowing that Coach Slater’s weekly pregame speech would end up being, to this day, some of the most memorable moments of my life.

Gone was the yelling, intimidating, authoritarian coach who pranced the field each afternoon, shouting commands at his boys and running us through sprints almost sadistically. Like he wasn’t just training us to play football, but punishing us for the very notion of deciding to be alive at all. That coach that we all feared was gone and in just a few minutes, I understood why this man was so well respected by faculty, alumni and students alike.

His pregame pep talk was nothing but sincere, honest positive reinforcement. There is no speech or lecture in my life that made me feel so good about myself – and I hardly played! It’s the type of speech that I wish could be given before every job interview, before every big presentation, before any high-stakes social event, before any race or physical challenge, and before any evening of love making. We felt SO GOOD about ourselves when we left that gymnasium that I look back wishing it was a feeling everyone in this world could feel just once. I wish I could have felt that way more than just once a week for 10 weeks every fall and I realize that’s a whole lot more positive vibes than many people on this earth will ever feel. I guess high school football is good for one thing: boosting your self-esteem.

Whenever I encounter someone about to embark on such a challenge, be it a job interview or a tough race, I try to replicate Coach Slater’s pep-talk, usually falling way short in the confidence-boosting. He was a natural who really thought it through. His pep-talk was always very detailed. He would call out individual players by name and tell them nothing but how ready they were for the night ahead. And he did it with such nurturing honesty that you believed him. Whether you were ready or not, he convinced you that you were.

And after he was finished, the team silent rose from the gymnasium floor and filed quietly to the bus, speaking not another word until we took the field. I treated my first Silent Bus Ride the way I treated my first communion. It was a serious thing that I needed to take seriously. Speaking a word, making any sound whatsoever would break the collective silence, and could possibly cost us the game. At least, that was the mentality of the Silent Bus Ride. Everything was on the line and you’d better keep your mouth shut and think about what you’re supposed to do on that field – or else. Or else you’d disappoint the team, the fans, your school, your parents and those ever watchful alumni. So I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t even look at anyone. I didn’t want to risk it. I kept my head down and my eyes closed and for the first three or four games, I was a model Silent Bus Rider. Like laying in a dark, silent gymnasium, or attending church on Sunday – I pretended like I wasn’t even there.

It worked. For those first three or four games, I was as silent as the rest of them. No distractions. Total concentration. I was focused. I was ready. I was IN THE ZONE.

Until one day, one unforgettable Silent Bus Ride, when I sat next to Efe.

We filed in quietly as usual with the rest of the team. I remember the coaches, captains and star players tended to sit in the front half while juniors and B-team players sat in the rear. Efe and I were of course, almost all the way to the back row. We took our seats without saying a word and I think I kept my eyes forward and observed the rest of the players in their silent meditation as the bus pulled away from our high school and took to the road.

Having no clue what Efe had in store, I glanced over and saw him making an unusual movement in his seat. He appeared to be glancing over the top of the seat in front of him as if he were looking to see if anyone was watching. Then with a quick motion, Efe loosened the string that kept his pants tight, where the zipper would normally be, reached down the front of his pants and pulled out….I couldn’t believe it…a wrapped McDonald’s hamburger.

Immediately I thought of several things. There were so many questions I wanted to ask but couldn’t. So many thing I needed to say but due to the present rules and restrictions, had to say these things with my eyes.

When did you get that?

Was it down the front of your pants during Slater’s entire speech?

Do you plan to eat that right now? (he did) How are you going to unwrap it without making a sound?

That wrapper is going to be LOUD on this silent bus!!

And most important – I hope to God I can keep myself from laughing.

Because right away I was attacked by a sudden jolt of that uncontrollable silent laughter. Where you can’t help but laugh but are using every ounce of strength in your body to stifle the noise, to keep the chuckles and snickers buried down deep. But your abdomen is not cooperating. And your brain is simultaneously telling you to unleash the laugh, to let it fly with a burst of happiness that will provide instant relief – while at the same time, warning you that making any sound means you’re a dead man.

This type of suppressed laugh is popular during a typical high school lifespan: when someone passes you a funny note during a boring teacher lecture – or even riskier – during a test! During Mass when everyone else is praying yet your pal a few seats away makes a funny face directed at the priest, or that same boring teacher from before. Or during the school play, when the most serious acting student in school is making the most serious monologue of the play, and your buddy jabs you again and whispers something totally inappropriate. Laughing at any of these times would likely result in detention or serious reprimand, so you do everything to can to keep that laughter inside, even though it’s fighting with all it’s might to be set free.

Your body shakes, your face turns red and your clench your arms and legs around yourself, tightening your own muscles around your torso and squeezing that laughter inside. Keeping the sound down is one thing, but the reddened skin and spastic gyrations are almost always a dead giveaway.

“Boys!” The teacher would finally shout once you’d been caught. “What the devil is so funny back there?” Usually all you needed to do was stop laughing, say sorry and the teacher’s lecture would continue. Sometimes you’d be removed from the room and scolded in the hallway. But usually you and your friend were just separated and not allowed to sit next to each other, until they next time when you could.

But hysterical laughter during the Silent Bus Ride? Until this moment, as I sit here and write these words, it is something I never actually considered. The way you never even want to consider what would happen if you jumped off that bridge. It would be nothing short of instant and gruesome death. Death of a football career, death of a social life, death of your high school honor. I don’t want to even imagine the dirty looks from players and the reaction from coaches as I upset the balance of the all important pre-game ritual. The coaches would have no choice but to berate the obvious laughing traitor- that would be me. What about the guy with the hamburger? He wasn’t laughing, he was just hungry, and I didn’t want to get Efe in trouble. If I let out even the tiniest snicker, it would lead to infinite methods of death. I mean one of our coaches, one of the largest and loudest coaches known casually as “Zee” had been known to kill students with the volume of his shouting alone. I did not want to face his wrath nor live the rest of my pathetic high school life having to avoid Zee, or any other angry player or coach. No, the consequence of laughter are so dire that I can’t even go there.

But none of those things happened. As difficult as it was, I was able to hold my laughter inside for the duration as Efe silently unwrapped his hamburger and chomped it away in about three bites. Now just try and imagine Efe trying to chew a mouthful of an entire burger while trying to suppress HIS laugh. Can you imagine trying to chew an entire mouthful of McDonald’s burger while at the same time containing hysterical laughter? I had to look away because if we made eye contact with each other, our laughter would win and he’d spit his entire burger all over the guy in front of him. Look at the floor, I told myself, look out the window, close your eyes and pretend it’s not happening. Ignore the whole thing.

It was my only defense.

To this day I’m not sure if anyone noticed. No one said I word to us (that I remember) and no one looked our way. Though I was so caught up in fighting my own laughter the memory of anything happening around me is a bit foggy. Yet, Efe got away with it. He crumpled the wrapper and wedged it into the seat and then sat back quietly while the hamburger made its way to his stomach.

Why did he do it? Hunger? For laughs? For thrills? An act of rebellion? Maybe a bit of both. As a growing high school boy I remember always feeling hungry. And find me a 16 year old kid that it’s a little rebellious. But if I think back to those days I figure Efe probably thought “I’m not going to play anyway,” and so he had nothing to lose. Even if he were reprimanded or kicked off the team, he wouldn’t lose any friends over it. In fact, he’d probably GAIN friends. Be exalted as the hero who dared to defy the rules of the Silent Bus Ride and scarf down a McDonald’s hamburger. The unusual and daring idea alone was enough to garner respect from just about every non-football in the school, which was just about everyone who wasn’t on that bus.

But they guy sitting next to him? The guy laughing his head off and disrupting the silence. The guy WITHOUT the hamburger? The one who broke everyone’s concentration and potentially cost them the game? That guy would be no hero. He’s be forever remembered as the guy who laughed out loud during the Silent Bus Ride.

I didn’t laugh during that bus ride, but I did later that day. Plenty. And I’ve laughed about it often since that wonderful day. With others, and with myself. On buses and in gymnasiums. While eating burgers and while clinking beer glasses with friends at those big, important parties. Efe’s hamburger didn’t cost me my life, and if I had laughed, it probably wouldn’t have big that big a deal anyway. Heck, even the coaches would calm down and laugh about it. It might take them five years to get over their rage. But who can’t laugh when a high schooler smuggles an entire McDonald’s hamburger down the front of his football pants?

Maybe it’s not funny at all. Maybe it’s just two dumb high school kids doing dumb things. Maybe you  just had to be there, and really, I wish you could have been.

~MCM

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Minneapolis Running and Yahoo! Entertainment. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards. Mark lives in Minneapolis with his wife and daughter. 


The Last Jedi and Our Young Men

December 24, 2017

The Last Jedi. This is not a post about The Last Jedi. But The Last Jedi. I really liked it. It’s much better the second time because the hype is gone and you can just sit back and be entertained. The visuals are just stunning. So many amazing shots. Plenty of all-time great shots. Lots of great moments for all the characters. No lacking in action and intrigue. Fastest 2.5 hours in movies.

But extremely controversial. Polarizing. Most people who I interact with, follow, read and listen to enjoyed the movie. But there is a very vocal minority who has serious problems with the movie. I’m not talking about anyone who didn’t like the movie and professed their disappointed, and then went about their lives. That’s fair. I’ve been disappointed before so I know the feeling. I’m talking about the people who are on a crusade to let the whole world know exactly how they feel, in every nook and cranny of social media. I mean, DAMN if the passion among a minority of fans isn’t a bit over the top!!

I love when a new Star Wars movie comes out because all kind of discussion, debate and analysis takes place and for the most part, it’s enjoyable and all in good fun. But this time the debate has a much different tone. It’s nasty. And I’m trying to figure out why. On Twitter and Facebook alone I’ve been discussing the movie with random people – the general populace – about how people liked the movie, about Kelly Marie Tran’s character, about how the male characters are portrayed, and how they fail, and are sometimes put down or bested by the female characters. Overall I’ve been sharing my experience that watching The Last Jedi was in fact a very enjoyable experience, but during these discussions there have been some strong dissenting opinions and it’s amusing and almost comical to note that during these debates I have been accused of being:

1. A fake fan
2. A big baby
3. A little baby
4. A nerd
5. Hysterical
6. A snowflake
7. A moron
8. A crackhead
9. Brainless
10. A little bitch
11. A simpleton
12. A fan for not long enough
13. In need of a safe space
14. A cuck
15. A bro
16. Extremely retarded

Now….I partly amused by how quickly and easily these insults are tossed my way. But I’m also a bit concerned. This has nothing to do with the movie at this point. These insults are ALL coming from the same demographic: younger white males or people I would classify as “bros.” Not a single female has used any of these insults, and no one under the age of about 20, or older than 40. And the whole thing (forget about the movie) just makes me wonder – what the hell is going on with the young men of America?


The Last Jedi is Great (With An *)

December 16, 2017

I loved this movie. Sure, there were a few issues and a few plot holes, but overall I was very happy with the themes, Luke/Rey/Kylo’s story lines and of course visually it was just stunning. First, what I loved:

  1. Luke Skywalker. He was mesmerizing from start to finish and I kept wanting the story to return to him. He was really the thing I cared about most in the movie and I loved seeing him back in action. I had been hoping (since they announced his return for The Force Awakens) that we would see him #IgnitetheGreen lightsaber during this new trilogy and live up to the legend he was portrayed to be. He did both, b25399062_10214867082248277_2330981838776849629_nut neither in a way I expected. Yes, he igited his green lightsaber, but not in a moment of swashbuckling ass-kicking, but during possibly the darkest moment of his life. And he certainly lived up to the legend through a very surprising and immensely satisfying use of Force projection. His final moment on the island, where he watched the sunset made me think of a similar scene in the first Star Wars. But now, decades later as Luke looked back on that sunset I wondered if he was thinking of his days on Tatooine as a farmboy, and if his need for adventure and excitement was worth the cost. Would it have been better to remain a simple farmboy and not get involved, living a quiet life oblivious to the Force and the greater struggle of good vs. evil? Of course, destiny made that impossible for Luke, but he had a few moment of “what if?” before passing peacefully and become one with the Force. I was a bit worried about how they’d handle his death but I thought it was a perfect way for him to go: as a Jedi Master, at peace, on his own terms, after one last fight. Easily Mark Hamill’s best performance of the saga. And I laughed when he uttered two words I never thought I would hear him say “Darth Sidious.” I bet prequel fans were very happy with that. I thought it was cool that they had Luke tie together the history of the previous trilogies like that. But his last battle with Kylo Ren at the end was Luke Skywalker as the Jedi Master we have been wanting to see. The legend. He taught Kylo Ren a few lessons about the Force, without doing further damage to his former student. 
  2. Poe Dameron. I felt the first movie gave us a taste of Poe and his early scenes in TFA with Finn were electric. There was great chemistry between them before Poe suddenly disappeared for most of the movie, and I always felt a bit deprived of his character. But in The Last Jedi we get a lot more Poe. Poe with attitude. Poe not always being right. Poe being humbled – and SHOT by Leia!! That was a huge surprise but I loved seeing Poe do something other than fly an X-Wing. And by the end of the movie, Leia had all but conceded all that was left of the Resistance to him. Leia passed the torch to him, it took the entire movie to do so, and it couldn’t have happened without the lessons Poe learned along the way. Leia served as his teacher and mentor throughout the film without being a teacher. He learned from his mistakes and as Leia saw that growth, she became more confident about him taking over – which is probably what she wanted all along.
  3. Leia. Ok, I hated the part where she was in space and floated back to the ship. I loved that she used the Force to do it but visually it just wasn’t working for me. It was too far a distance for her to travel. I would have liked it better if she had done that right after the explosion, where she was close and the act was more immediate and desperate. That was the one moment of the movie that made me think, “I have a bad feeling about this” but that feeling was quickly washed away by all the action and spectacle. Anyway, back to Leia. She didn’t really do much in TFA other than be present, give a few directions, and provide backstory on Kylo and Luke. I was happy that she played a bigger part in driving the story here and how great was it to see her finally reunite with Luke. Sure, they didn’t REALLY reunite but through the Force, Luke came out of hiding and revealed himself to her and for a few moments, it was as real as it needed to be. One of the biggest “warm fuzzy” moments of the movie for me.
  4. Rey and Kylo. I loved where they took this relationship and other than Luke’s arc, it was my favorite part of the movie. I loved that the story teased an alliance between them, which we had for a few moments during a kickass confrontation with Snoke, but it never crossed the line and they maintained their sides of light vs. dark. But the way they communicated through the Force was another unexpected twist. We’ve seen characters communicate through the Force before (Leia hearing Luke’s call in ESB, Luke and Vader “talking” to each other through the Force) so that was nothing new. But it was the closeness of that communication. Being able to see each other’s surroundings, being able to touch each other was an interested take and it brought them closer and closer together, to the point where they were actually together – so close I was ready to cringe if they had kissed – and thankfully they didn’t! But their dual projection made Luke’s projection at the end possible and inevitable. Because if he had just projected at the end without any setup it wouldn’t have been as believable. Which makes me wonder, and almost certain, that this form of connection will continue into Episode 9.
  5. The confrontation with Snoke. This was the single best sequence in the movie and was filled with so many surprises. A Return of the Jedi type of setup immediately made me think we’re about to see either a turn by Rey or the redemption of Kylo. I was happy we had neither. Snoke’s death was a HUGE surprise, especially the way it happened, but it cemented Kylo’s place in Dark Side History, establishing him as leader of the First Order, and showed he was ready to kill his past and every father figure he’s ever had – Luke being next on the list. Then when it went into brief slo-mo and Rey and Kylo fought back to back against those red dudes I about lost my shit. Dark and Light working together for mutual advantage. A short term partnership meant to last only long enough for them to remove the immediate threat, only to see them turn on each other again. It was a great fight scene with terrific emotional payoff. And didn’t you love when Snoke made the lightsaber fly around the room and bonk Rey in the head? That was a metaphor for how director Rian Johnson treated the audience. You think it’s going to go one way but it zings around and smacks you in the back of the head. Loved it!
  6. The Force. Specifically Luke’s interpretation. He had been pondering it and studying it while alone on that island. Figuring it all out, and not to share with his disciples, but for himself. One of his standout lines was something like “The Force doesn’t belong to us.” It doesn’t belong to the Jedi, or the Sith. It serves a larger purpose and has been misunderstood. He points Rey in a direction where she will hopefully understand it the way he does. And that it’s not just about moving things and picking up rocks. She picks up rocks because she needs to, but understands there is a greater purpose. Still a student, she has a lot to learn, but won’t be bogged down by the strict dogma made famous by the Jedi Council. There are no rules and no constraints to the Force and we see this being accepted when Luke and Yoda watch the tree burn, thinking the sacred texts are inside (they’re already on the Falcon, I think). It’s okay to let them burn. Let the past die. Because look what trouble it caused. It is time for the Jedi to end. It’s time for a new interpretation of the Force and I can’t wait to see where Rey takes it because it’s all in her hands now (with possible guidance from a Luke Skywalker Force ghost? One can only hope)!
  7. Hux. I loved Hux since the first moment I saw him in TFA. I love how much Domhnall Gleeson gets into playing the character with an almost ridiculously stiff ruthlessness. He’s clearly having so much fun playing the part and he’s a joy to have on screen. By the end of the movie, when Kylo Ren is pushing him around and just generally being an awful dick, I actually felt a bit of sympathy for Hux. I love when he reached for his blaster and almost finished off Kylo Ren so I’m very much looking forward to where this rivalry goes in Episode 9. As Gandalf would have said: My heart tells me that Hux has some part to play yet, for good for ill, before this is over.

Now for the issues I had with the movie, mostly in the storytelling.

  1. Finn and Rose’s storyline. I liked both of these characters and I liked the material they explored. How the galactic war in financed is something that has been barely explored in Star Wars. We see a bit of it in the prequels and the Clone Wars series, but it’s clear there is a lot of rich directions they can go here. But their story didn’t quite line up with the desperate attempt of the Resistance to flee the First Order. That whole setup with the ships in space was basically a slow chase scene that lasted the entire movie, with hints of the Battlestar Galactica “33” episode where every jump is an exhausting and seemingly endless act of desperation that can only end in certain death. And Finn and Rose’s mission to infiltrate the First Order ships didn’t have the right tone of desperation and urgency. It was a fun adventure and I liked seeing the casino world but it’s ONLY this one code breaker, who will MOST CERTAINLY be gambling at the high stakes table in a city filled with casinos, who will be CONVINCED by two nobodies who approach him with a life-threatening and nearly impossible proposition….when they have no money to offer and he’d be walking away from a life of riches? I don’t see it. It didn’t line up with everything else we were seeing. I loved BB-8 though, and that final moment of Phasma’s life, where you see her eye before she falls into the abyss was satisfying and unexpected. And I realize this story line was about passing on hope to the younger generation who will be the spark that will eventually take the First Order down. Thematically it worked but as far as plotting and storytelling, it just didn’t really fit into the larger puzzle as well as it could. But I totally want Rose’s Rebel Alliance ring.
  2. Porgs. Actually I loved the porgs. I thought they were funny but they were kind of pointless. Cute creatures meant to sell toys and make the kids happy. Hey, that’s part of what Star Wars in all about so I’ll go with it. But those crystal foxes actually tied into the story and guided the characters to an eventual rescue, while the porgs were just sort of there. Fun, but pointless.
  3. The Leia scene in space. I already talked about it but I’m mentioning it again. The only part of the movie that made me cringe.
  4. The overall plot – for the Resistance to escape the First Order and find a place to hide. That’s basically all there was to the overall guiding structure of the movie. Just a slow-chase in space that will certainly end in a climactic battle we all know is coming. It served as the spine for the rest of the storylines but I had so many questions. This is ALL that’s left of the Resistance? Where is the rest of the galaxy in this? What good was the civil war in the OT if it just leads to 10 or 12 people left on the Falcon at the end of the movie? I get it, they are the spark that is keeping everything alive. And I get that a big commentary of Star Wars makes on our world is that we have always been at war with each other, and will always be at war with each other. It is called Star WARS after all, but in both TFA and TLJ it feels like we’re only getting a small slice of that war. If all that’s left of the Resistance is a few ships and a couple allies who refuse to join the fight, then why does the First Order care? I realize they need to pinch the spark for good but it seems like they would have bigger priorities, like figuring out how to rule the galaxy after their super-weapon was destroyed in TFA, and not chasing 15 people into a cave.
  5. No blue ghosted Ewan McGregor in 60-year old Obi-Wan makeup showing up to guide Luke? Well, we got Yoda instead so I’ll take what I can get. At least there was no Hayden.

 

Overall I give The Last Jedi a rating of “Best Movie Ever” even though it wasn’t and I won’t know where I rank it in the Star Wars films until I’ve seen it a few times and have had a close listen to the soundtrack (which feels like recycled TFA music). That one Finn/Rose theme sounds like something from Jurassic Park or ET, yet I find myself whistling it to myself. And I was literally SINGING ALONG with the OT fighter music while Chewie was flying the Falcon through the caves. I definitely rank TLJ high among Star Wars films. Not “better than Empire” but possibly “best since Empire.” It was pretty damn good. Definitely in the top 4 (can you believe there are now 9 Star Wars movies? I never thought we’d have more than 6 and there are 6 more on the way!!) I enjoyed seeing it, I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s responses, and I’m looking forward to a few decades debating the thing (hey, it’s been almost 20 years and people are STILL talking about The Phantom Menace). It’s a great movie experience that will provide countless hours of enjoyment outside of the film and that’s what it’s all about.  

There’s something intangible about Star Wars. That feeling. Aside from what you see on screen aside from the debates and discussions and the music and merchandise. There’s that feeling. How you felt when watching the movies as a kid. As a child of the Original Trilogy, I didn’t have that feeling very much during the prequels. I felt it in certain moments during The Force Awakens: when Rey slides down the giant sand hill, when Han Solo and Chewie first enter the Falcon, when Rey pulls the lightsaber out of the snow and ignites it, when we finally see Luke Skywalker atop the steps on Ahch-To. There was an awakening, and I felt it, but for only a few moments. After The Force Awakens, the feeling I had was of relief. That the movie didn’t suck. That J.J. Abrams had brought Star Wars back into positive territory. But the Last Jedi gave me that other feeling, and I felt it throughout. The Last Jedi is great* because it made me feel like a kid again.

~MCM

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Minneapolis Running and Yahoo! Entertainment. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards. Mark lives in Minneapolis with his wife and daughter. 


Insane Runner Joins 11 Strangers for Ragnar Washington, D.C.

September 19, 2016

14333154_10210563004649027_5190930584774944308_nThat insane runner would be me. I caught the bug, I did. I caught the Ragnar Bug. It’s real. Having just completed Ragnar Great River a few weeks prior, I decided I couldn’t wait a whole year until the next Great River, and hopped on a plane to Washington D.C. to join a group of runners I had never met before and run in one of their empty slots. I was already in Ragnar shape, and the flight was cheap, around $160 if I remember, so I figured why not? It would be worth it for the story alone. And that story is unfolding before you at this very moment…

In the weeks leading up to this race, many people asked me how this situation came about. Here we are up in Minnesota, where the summer is turning to fall and we’re starting to heat up our cider and rant about the proliferation of Pumpkin Spice Everything. Who is  thinking about flying across the country to run in a race at a time like this? Why are you doing this, Mark McGinty? What in the pumpkin spiced hell is wrong with you?

I realized I had a chance to run Ragnar Washington D.C. upon learning my wife had a convention in town the same weekend. Well heck, if she’s going to DC and Ragnar DC just happens to be that same weekend I might as well tag along, do some running, and catch up with you later in the weekend!

14368757_10103236101079369_2270331408348723141_nBut I had no team. No problem. Just go to the Facebook page of any random Ragnar race, post that you are available to join a team and wait for the responses to hit your inbox. I had 5 within 24 hours. All from teams that had lost a runner due to an injury, or a scheduling conflict, or a whatever. I found one team, The Misfit Toys, that would be passing through Bethesda on the morning of the race and could swing by and pick me up at my hotel. Done deal. Bought a cheap plane ticket, packed my stuff, and headed out Thursday night.

What was I most concerned about? Surprisingly to some, I was not worried about joining a team with 11 strangers. I wasn’t worried about team dynamics or being in a van with 5 people that I could potentially hate. How could I hate a Ragnar runner? We’re in a class by ourselves, a group of common crazies who understands that inner insanity that we all possess. Getting along with my vanmates would happen naturally. I wasn’t worried about that at all. What I was more concerned about were the logistics of m14292373_10210296728605789_1775997315485474327_neeting up with the team. I was traveling across country, taking the Metro to a hotel somewhere, trying to eek out a few hours sleep. I was also worried about my nutrition, as my regular eating and hydration routine would be out of whack, and about running on terrain I didn’t know. But those things would be dealt with as they came up. First thing was getting there and grabbing at least four hours of sleep (I was able to get almost exactly that).

And to make matters a bit more complicated: my in-laws decided to meet us in Washington, D.C.

Now, not to say anything negative about them, because I think they are great and I always enjoy their company. But it was another variable in a long list of variables that one doesn’t usually encounter before Ragnar. But they are understanding, so when I reached the hotel and found them waiting in the lobby, they both received a quick hug before I announced that I was heading directly to bed.

“Now do you need a ride to the race in the morning?” my ever-so-generous father in law asked at 11:30pm in the lobby of the Bethesda Double Tree.

“I do, but that’s taken care of.”

“Because it’s no problem. I can give you a ride.”

Adorable – he didn’t know about Ragnar. “Well the starting line is about a two hour drive,” I said, “Somewhere in outer Maryland near Montana or something.”

His eyes bugged out. “Two hours??? What IS this race?”

I held my smile and nodded. “I’ll tell you all about it….” And so I headed off to the elevator as he followed and I explained just exactly what I had gotten myself into.

14333815_10103236100420689_7244163038226556920_nThe next morning I met the team. As I sat on a sidewalk in the early morning somewhere around 4:45am, a familiar gray van pulled up to the Double Tree. This was either a Ragnar van or a creeper van but when Joe and Paul hopped out to grab my luggage, I knew I was good to go. Kelly was driving, Jules was in the seat behind her and in the back were Karl and Anna. We said polite hellos as I climbed into the van, made small talk, light jokes and within 20 minutes I fell asleep. I can’t tell you what part of Maryland we were in (I mean, I can NOW but at the time I had no idea where we were). Funniest thing though…I quickly learned that no one in Van 1 knew anyone from Van 2. We were a combination team. Two 6-person teams merged together into a 12-person monster by the power of the Ragnar gods. It was unusual. I’ve done Ragnar before and you always know at least one or two people from the other van, if not all of them. I had never done one of these fusion deals. It turned out to work just fine. Van 2 met us at the starting line and at every exchange and of course at the finish. If you only have a team of 6, one of these arrangements works quite well!

14390713_10210296736605989_4818202826431012372_nThe rest of the story you know. Grueling runs, stinky vans, short rest. The usual challenge. The terrain was much tougher than Great River, at least those first legs. Almost everyone in our van had a massive hill with rocky terrain and narrow roads. Massive meaning that the biggest hills in Great River would be bunny hills compared to these. 750 foot climbs, 11 degree elevation which makes for a tough run on the way up but a thrilling sprint on the way down. I had one of my fastest, most exhilarating runs on the downside of Leg 3, after reaching to top of that sumbitch hill.

I just want to say that Leg 3 was also witness to one of the great water refills in Ragnar history. I was on the opposite side of the highway from the van and Joe called out and asked if I needed water. I did, so I threw my empty water bottle across the road, which he caught like a wide receiver and then carried as he sprinted to the van. I’m still running so Joe quickly refills the bottle, tosses it forward to Paul who then runs it across the highway and hands it to me. Flawless execution.

14355085_10210561526692079_99776847343725987_nA lot of really cool things happened during this race that I wasn’t expecting. We saw an engagement proposal at the first major exchange which was greeted with a swarm of photos and cheering from the other runners. I ate in a cafe I would have otherwise never have seen, bought sweets at a bakery renowned for its pie I guess, and saw farms, hills and scenery that I otherwise would never have seen.

And after Van 1 finished our final legs and Van 2 took over for the final push into DC, Paul and Kelly (our driver) invited Van 1 into their home to use their laundry and showers. Their hospitality was superb and very much appreciated. Knowing I would have to travel back to a hotel on the Metro and would have to figure out a laundry situation was another unwelcome situation but Paul and Kelly were so generous in allowing me to mess up their stuff. I certainly felt right at home!

Which brings me to what is always the best part about Ragnar: your teammates. You can’t 14291922_10154681093549742_4231655280850834278_nsurvive Ragnar without your teammates and good teammates make Ragnar great. I had great teammates. Joe, Paul and Kelly had the whole thing under control and were experts at getting us to the next exchange and keeping us on track. Whatever you needed you could get. “Hey, can we stop for coffee?” “Sure!” “Hey, can we drive through DC so I can get some tourist shots?” “No problem!”

Great tour guides, I had, and this out-of-towner was able to capture those required shots of the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and other such sights that folks in Minnesota would almost demand.

14344121_10210563006969085_6122346385917529116_nThere was friendly banter among all of us throughout the race and I was able to form genuine bonds with Karl, Jules, Anna, Joe, Paul and Kelly, even though we were only together for less than 40 hours. By the end of the race, after a very cool finale through the streets of Washington, D.C. and a few beers gulped at the finish line, it was time to say goodbye. We all exchanged happy handshakes and hugs, with plenty of “great meeting yous!” and “let’s do this agains!” They dropped me off on a street corner near the Metro, just as they had picked me up from a street corner only hours before.

The hardest part of Ragnar is not the running, nor the constant fatigue, or the heat, or the stinky vans. The hardest part is saying goodbye to your team. 14369931_10210561569533150_6873893513285442531_nLeaving a sweaty dreamworld filled with water bottles and reflective vests and returning to everyday life, a life that seams surreal and unimportant in those minutes immediately following your final goodbye leads to a bit of a bummer. The Ragnar Blues, I call it. That feeling you get after preparing for weeks and weeks, living in the thick of the race for nearly two straight days and having it suddenly come to an end. People, “civilians”, don’t seem to relate to what you’ve been through. All you have are your memories, and a nod from your teammate, a quick text or email, maybe a Facebook post from your van captain that proclaims the promise to do it again soon.

And do it again I will.

Now enjoy these photos…(click to enlarge)

 

Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Minneapolis Running and Yahoo! Entertainment. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards. Mark lives in Minneapolis with his wife and daughter.