I talk a great deal about New Orleans in this blog. My friends who grew up or spent a portion of their life there marvel at the unabashed affection my wife and I have for the city. My affair began in mid-February 1998, during the last years of my college studies. My significant other at the time was asked to attend a technical writing conference in NOLA. She thought it would be neat to spend the weekend together; she'd do her conference during the week, I'd fly back to Tampa in time to make it to classes.
After the initial shock I believe most out-of-town (conservative) visitors have once "airdropped" into the French Quarter, I found the area's attitude to be a refreshing change from other places I'd visited. There is nothing like a town - outside of the fact you can walk down the street with an open container in hand - with so much tolerance for the quirky, off-beat, and sometimes just plain unique. It grows on a person...kind of like a fungus. And I've never felt the need to look for "fungicide" in the 13 years since that weekend. When things became a little too wound around the axle, we would look at our respective bank accounts and reserve travel and lodging for the next three-day weekend. Time in New Orleans became (for us) the litmus test for the health of our relationship.
Suzanne and I were married the week before the 2004 Crescent City Classic; we had our wedding reception with a guest list numbering over 15 thousand - I'm still waiting for the donations from the "money dance." We both visited for the 2005 RRCA Convention; she went on a girls' weekend the week before the storm turned everything upside down. A.K. (After Katrina), I heard snippets of stories from friends, and marveled, slack-jawed, at the destruction as I drove through southern Mississippi, Slidell and New Orleans East. The piles of destroyed building materials in the neutral grounds near City Park, the "bathtub ring" on the houses which still stood - my closest NOLA friends were good to point them out to me. As a history guy, though, I wanted to know as much of the story as I could stand. My loving wife gave me a gift card for a national bookstore chain, with which I immediately purchased two texts which caught my eye during my last visit: Chris Rose's "1 Dead In Attic," and Douglas Brinkley's "The Great Deluge." I chose to read Rose first, because - like the young person was asked why she chose C. S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" - it was shorter. Well, and Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" episode made him more familiar to me.
I leisurely strolled through 300 pages or so of "1 Dead In Attic," when I was suddenly struck: what I originally considered an eyewitness history of the first days of NOLA A.K. was also a travelogue of Rose's Orpheus-like descent into the dark underworld of depression. Only three other books have forced me to struggle for equilibrium by its end: Hemingway's "For Whom The Bell Tolls," Josten Gaarder's "Sophie's World," and Umberto Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum." At the end of the book, I was thankful Rose is a journalist, and that he is not Umberto Eco.
A training cycle or plan, especially for an endurance event, can leave an athlete in the same predicament. When written in macro form, it's clean, neat and readily achievable. Arrive at the mid-point, when the training miles seem endless and conditions team up with mileage to make even the simplest workouts daunting... The athlete suddenly realizes that making it to the starting line healthy is an accomplishment in and of itself. Getting up (some mornings) to do the tasks for which we earn our keep, maintaining open and mutually-satisfying relationships with the people closest to us, and meeting the other commitments (religious, civic, athletic, business, and so on) which round out our lives; these are things which should be the most important. Especially since the vast majority of athletes are not making a living by running, swimming or bicycling.
The previous day's Wall Street Journal on-line (which I passed on to a coaching friend of mine) had an article about the strains endured by families who have a family member training for an endurance event, like marathons or a long-distance triathlons. Some are able to communicate during the struggle to make it to the start line; others can never get a message through. And something as daunting as endurance sport is never accomplished alone. Not if it's going to be satisfying at the finish line.
Because when you feel like you're going through hell you have little choice but to keep going. And it's always more tolerable when you're not going it alone.