"You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take."

Shortly before sunset, September 18. I’m standing on the turf of Cornell’s Schoellkopf Field, at the postgame concert following the Big Red Marching Band’s first performance in twenty-two months. As I’m enjoying the music and letting the emotions of the occasion wash over me, I feel vibration in my pocket and hear the two-note tone played when the Final Jeopardy! category and clue are revealed.

I pull out the phone and it’s a text from my friend Kathryn. On account of some RSVPs in the negative from invitees on her side, she and her fiancé drew up a second round of invites, and my name was on that list. I filed the thought away that evening, as the combined effects of advancing years, lack of hydration, and an (unusually for Ithaca) clear, sunny day were catching up with me. After I got home the following evening, I thought about it — and thought, "there's no way." Without even looking at my work schedule, I was able to parse out that this coming weekend would be one of the the two out of each five that my crew is on shift. And with the wedding just under four weeks away, the vacation request would have to be approved a couple of levels higher than it would if made further in advance. I was skeptical of these things happening.

But at some point, I went to the couple's wedding website and looked at the "starting lineups," if you will — that is, who was in the wedding party. And I saw on those lists a couple of names of people I especially wanted to see in person; one I haven't seen in two years, the other in five. And I realized that I was looking at the situation in the wrong way. Over the last year and a half, various developments at work had put me back in a mentality that I employed during not-insignificant stretches of my tour of duty on the Submersible Death Trap. (Been a while since I used that term…) Said mentality: expect the worst, and be pleasantly surprised when it doesn't come to pass. But I broke through that, and reminded myself that the worst thing that work could say was no, and if that was their response, I'd be no worse off than previously. (The Wayne Gretzky quote in the title came to me some time later.) So I asked for the vacation, with an explanation of the circumstances. It was approved, and so I told Kathryn I'd be coming and booked a room in downtown Rochester.

What I thought would be a formality – getting my shifts covered – turned out to be anything but. A Saturday afternoon ceremony and reception that evening, six hours away from home, would mean I'd need the entire set of day shifts (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) off. When the first round of requests went out, Friday was covered, but the other two were not. We do have a few reactor operators (RO's) who are out for various reasons through October. I put out a feeler to a co-worker who is no longer on our rotating shift schedule, but could cover one of the two days, and he agreed to take Sunday. But this puts me in a crunch position. Saturday is the keystone day; it doesn't do me much good to have the other two covered without the middle day. And as I prepared to start this weekend's set of four night shifts (Friday through Monday), I faced an approaching milestone; at 6 pm this past Friday, the cost of the first of the two nights in Rochester would lock in and become non-refundable. I decide that if things don't work out, I can eat that cost. I really did NOT want to have to renege on Kathryn this close to her and Age's big day. That evening, one of the reactor operators from my previous crew is in with us working overtime. He'd previously mentioned possibly working Saturday, but hadn't committed to it; he said he'd speak to his wife and see if he could swing it. Not long after we left this past Saturday morning, he told me he could. WOOHOO! All the pieces have fallen into place!

Now I get to turn my attention to much better questions and problems to have…
  • I got some help on some of them from another RO from my previous crew who was in with us on Saturday night. He went to college in Rochester, and is an amateur pilot with his own plane. He also particularly enjoys a particular hot dog from a particular place in the Rochester Public Market. (As that frankfurter is to him, the Pinesburger is to me.) He said he might make a trip up there on Saturday to enjoy said dog, as well as hang with friends there. When I mentioned these plans and that they were finally fully confirmed, Russ dropped LOTS of knowledge, mostly food and drink related — and he said that if he did fly up there this weekend, he'd give me a call.

  • I settled on which of my suits will best fit; I'm now starting to work on the challenge of making sure I'm not underdressed for either Friday evening's pre-event or Sunday morning's brunch. (Though I wear a button-down collared shirt and khaki slacks all the time as my work uniform, I rarely dress up otherwise.)

  • As I am a bone and not a trumpet, by definition, I do not suck. But I haven't picked up the trombone in three years. This is important because Kathryn asked those of us of the sackbut and euphonium persuasion to bring our instruments and play some of our section's arrangements (like the theme from "Cheers," "The Longest Time," "Hawaii Five-O," and Cornell's fight song and alma mater). It having been three decades this fall since I first picked up the trombone, the knowledge of which note corresponds to which position is permanently inscribed on my cerebrum. And so are where those notes fall on the staff — as long as that staff has a bass clef at the start of it. Not sounding like total [fecal matter] is the bar I'm setting for myself here.
One other matter, I've already settled; split the driving by heading to Ithaca on Thursday, doing the remaining two hours to Rochester on Friday morning. I'd re-accumulated enough credit card points since June to book a room for Thursday night there.

Last month, I nearly pulled the plug on the Bonecoming 2021 travel, after Cornell went to COVID yellow alert and BRBAA canceled all its official activities. However, the decision to pull the trigger was justified by several particularly lovely moments over the course of that weekend. So too with this, there were multiple chances for me to pull the plug, and it might have been the conservative choice in each of them. Indeed, small-c "conservatism" is one of the five key fundamentals of nuclear plant operations (in the sense of "fail conservatively," not in any political context). But in the end, I don't have to run my life outside work as I do when I'm there. I can assess the risks for myself, since here at home, they only accrue to and affect me, and not to everyone within a 10 or 50 mile radius of the power plant.

Each of the choices I've made in this evolution so far – each of the risks I've taken – has paid off. There will be further points this weekend where I will have to make choices, and I intend to make them responsibly. Hopefully, as time continues to efflux, I'll keep that going — or to put it another way, I'll get better with age too.

THANK YOU SENIORS!!! (clap clap clapclapclap)

To the Cornell Athletics class of 2021,

Congratulations on crossing the finish line! It's an accomplishment that you have earned every right to celebrate, one that can't be taken away from you, and one that will inform and guide your experiences for the rest of your lives.

Your chapter of the story of Big Red athletics is coming to a close. It's a chapter that took a completely unforeseen twist, one that is without precedent in recent decades — perhaps in the entire history of the University. When you made your commitments to Cornell and to your coaches, and sent in your tuition deposits, you certainly did not sign up for anything like the experience of the last year and a quarter.

And as intercollegiate athletes, the impact upon you was particularly acute. You chose to attend Cornell, at least in part, specifically to play for this program and represent this institution. So having the rhythm and ritual of practice, training in the Friedman Center, and of course, competition days — ripped away from each of you, for at least a full season of play, was an especially great price to pay. It's a sacrifice that is not lost on me, and one I hope is borne in mind by all Big Red fans in the years to come.

But in a sense, there was another type of competition at hand — one that lasted the whole 2020-2021 academic year, one where every day was game day. In this game, the equipment wasn't sticks, balls, pucks, oars, and the like — it was Daily Checks, masks, social distancing, and surveillance testing.

It was a game with an outcome far from certain. When President Pollack and her administration made the decision to conduct instruction in-person this year, I was convinced that, on balance, it was the right call. That is, it was the least bad of the available options. Even so, it was a massive roll of the dice. There were many who said it was reckless and foolish, said it couldn't be done, said we'd be back in fully remote learning in no time.

You proved them wrong. In every possible way. You met the moment, and you rose to the occasion. You came together with your own teammates, and students across campus, and staff, and faculty, united as one Cornell team. And as these final days of this school year pass, they pass like the final seconds of a blowout victory at Lynah Rink — keys out and jingling, imploring the naysayers to warm up the bus. Because victory in this long game is just about assured. It's a victory that I take to be as meaningful as any Big Red championship — perhaps even more so. It makes me so proud to be associated with this singularly great institution.

You're saying goodbye to your days of suiting up in carnelian and white in a way you never expected to. But while it may be goodbye to those days, it is most certainly NOT goodbye to your teammates, nor to Cornell. To them, it is merely "until next time."

As you prepare to depart from the East Hill and enter what Shakespeare called the "undiscovered country" — the future, or as it's sometimes called from your vantage point, the "real world" — know this with absolute certainty. A part of you will always remain there. All of you will always be welcome back there. And each of you will always be home there.

Thank you, one and all, for all you've given to the Big Red, and to Cornell University. Give my regards… and far above. Hail, all hail… and love to thee. Yell Cornell… and LET'S GO RED!!!

I composed this over the last week or so, as Cornell Athletics individually honored each member of this year's graduating class on social media. I shared it on Twitter yesterday, but I also thought it worthwhile to post here, with a few additional remarks.

First, I've seen comments that the true and proper way to honor these exceptional Cornellians would be to let them play. But that doesn't take into account the whole picture. I don't think the decision was ever really Cornell's to make, at least in terms of play within its conference. Not long after Cornell announced it would conduct this academic year residentally, Harvard announced it would remain fully remote for all of 2020-21, and Princeton backtracked to that same position. If those two schools weren't going to bring their players to campus, there seems to me to have been no realistic way for the Ivy League to conduct competition. Each school made what it thought was the best decision for its community, given each school's unique circumstances, particularly the percentage of students living in on-campus housing.

And second: when I saw the forecast for here outside Philadelphia this weekend (highs mid-50s, lows low-40s, and very wet), I wondered how cold it might get at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake on this last weekend of May. Fortunately, the answer: not any colder than here. Still, everybody stay warm and safe up there as you celebrate!

Hello LJ, my old friend

A new day, a new month, a new year, a new decade — today, they all have come. Two score years ago today, I was chilling out inside a nice little abode, when a light appeared in the sky all of a sudden. I felt a force embracing me, and I was lifted closer and closer to the light… until it was all around me. (Don’t blame me for that — how was I supposed to understand the concept of "twenty-two days late"?)

To be entirely honest, my birthday has never felt completely special to me. After all, what is it really but a marking of reaching about the same point in the earth's orbit around the sun as when one burst forward onto said earth? (pulls tongue out of cheek) It might also have something to do with the fact that it's also my mother's — and that still holds, even though this is now the seventh one after her passing. She would always say that having me on her 31st birthday was the greatest gift she'd ever gotten. I had another view… to me, it was "I don't get my own."

Of course, nature decided to have fun with me by making today sunny and in the low seventies. We're in a refueling outage at work, and I'm on night shift — so it was get home this morning, open the packages my brother sent me, and then to bed, getting up mid-afternoon, and back in to work tonight.

Speaking of those packages: my brother got me three things. The T-shirt and the book of Giants trivia were good, but the third… well, you just have to see for yourself.


With this poster, he didn't just knock it out of the park — he knocked it right off the face of the clock at the top of Rhodes Hall.

I've come back over here after another attempt at WordPress; given the little blogging I've done in the last two years, it wasn't worth it to renew, especially having a permanent account here. I know I can say I want to change that, but I won't make any promises. I did bring over two posts about going back to my hometown in September 2019 to run the 10K race held there annually. (Part one.) (Part two.) I'm glad I did it then, because the race was canceled held virtually last year due to COVID-19, and this year, as it often does, it overlaps with Homecoming at Cornell. And a return trip to Ithaca in twenty-two weeks absolutely has priority.

The first 20 years ran down a fairly straight path. The following 20 had far more twists and turns. It's time to start the next 20 — let's see what's out there.

The 2019 Cow Harbor 10K, Part II: Race Day

I did have a little bit of trouble sleeping on Friday night, and finally at 6:15 on Saturday morning, I decided it was time to rise and roll. I packed up all my things, since I'd be returning after the race just long enough to shower and grab my belongings, and then head out. As I looked at the race gear that I'd laid out on the bed, a stubborn thought ran through my mind - "8:42… so that's then we find out whether or not this was a good idea." Fortunately, after just a few minutes, I realized that I had totally the wrong mental framework. I took a deep breath, and yelled something (internally, of course) meant to reorient me toward the right one: "WAKE UP, IT'S RACE DAY!!"

After packing, I got "suited and booted" - that is, donned the race gear - and armed myself with the very few things I'd need to have on me after crossing the finish line. (Things like my ID, the key to where I was staying, and a bit of cash.) I also applied SPF 70 to every exposed skin surface; I didn't want to be peeling like mad in the days to come. About 7:40, I walked out the door and over to the starting area. That was a moment when it started to feel real - seeing the thousands of assembled runners all awaiting the same thing I was. Fortunately, there was one sense in which I didn't have to wait - for a toilet. I counted forty-nine of them in the row what had been staged, and the lines for them were dozens deep.

At 8:15, I "stepped into the crucible" - that is, onto Laurel Avenue, having found the staging area for my "wave." The Cow Harbor 10K uses a staggered start (officially, the "John J. Pitfick Staggered Start" after the man who devised it). The race's official starting time is 8:30, but only the elites - the runners who are in it to win it - and other very fast people kick it off then. The field is divided into fifteen waves, based on predicted finishing times. Each subsequent wave starts, like clockwork, a minute after the previous one. Having listed an hour and ten minutes as my estimated completion time, I was in the thirteenth wave. The anticipation built as the minutes ticked down. At 8:28, I heard "The Star-Spangled Banner" off in the distance… and two minutes later, "pop." The elites were on the course, and the 2019 Great Cow Harbor 10-Kilometer Run was officially underway.

With every subsequent "pop," both anticipation and trepidation built within me. But there was no turning back now. With less than two minutes before my wave was sent off, I elected to knowingly (because I read them) violate the race rules, albeit in a manner befitting a quote from Albert Einstein: "Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced." The instructions to runners, right there on the front page of the race's website, clearly state that "NO…HEADSETS…will be allowed on the course." Plenty of others had theirs in, so I didn't see a problem with doing the same. 8:41 - "pop" again. We're next. Someone on a loudspeaker got us psyched up, as I fiddled with my phone. It would determine most of the musical accompaniment, but I would choose the first song myself. I started the playlist, and took another deep breath. The starter intoned "five, four, three, two, one…"

POP. I started the stopwatch, and I started running. Ten thousand meters to go. The song I chose was Pink's "Just Like Fire," and its chorus reminded me why it was the right choice: "we came here to run it, run it, run it… just like fire, burning out the way, if I can light the world up for just one day…" This was my day to light up the world.

Over the first mile, I repeatedly reminded myself to exercise the caution I knew was necessary. After a brief climb, Scudder Avenue slopes downward for the remainder of Mile 1 and into Mile 2. You don't want to expend too much energy, especially knowing what remains ahead. I reached the first mile marker ahead of pace, but not too much. So far, so good. The playlist here did its job reminding me of what to be willing to expend - "Whatever It Takes," by Imagine Dragons. I turned the corner onto Woodbine Avenue, which takes you within sight of the finish line. It occurred to me then that the leaders were already on Main Street. Onto Bayview Avenue, and those wonderful views of Northport Harbor off to the left. That's when I passed two things that remain indelibly on my memory - someone holding a sign that said "Go, Random Stranger!" which drew a smile from me, and someone running the race in full firefighting gear, including an SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus). Respect, sir. But Bayview is only so long, and eventually I made the dreaded right, onto…

James Street. This is the major climb of the course. And I have to admit, not even my treadmill really prepared me for it. I'd biked it several times when I was younger, and every time, I had to step off the pedals and walk for a bit. Saturday was no different. I got back to a jog, but I had to conserve my energy - we still had a long way to go. Once atop the hill, I happened to notice my Airbnb host along the course, but didn't think to stop at the time. Onward to Ocean Avenue and its spectacular views, which include "the Pit" (a depression in the land caused by sand and gravel mining, since redeveloped into high-end housing), the Northport Power Station (a point of high contention back home these days), and Long Island Sound (and on this day, clear across to Connecticut). Had to adjust slightly here, to account for the ambulance taking someone off the course. Three-mile split looks good, and so does the 5K. Halfway home. Down Eatons Neck Road and onto…
… "the back stretch," the mile and a half section of the course on Waterside Avenue. The intersection of Eatons Neck and Waterside is the closest point the course comes to where I grew up in Crab Meadow. It was about here that the playlist gave me Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." I found myself modifying the first verse: "this is how we do it, it's Saturday, and I feel okay, we're all here running the 10K…" I reached the four-mile marker north of the intersection with Norwood Avenue over a minute ahead of pace. This was crucial information to have on hand.

That run down Waterside is a long, slow incline, something you wouldn't necessarily suspect if you drive over it. It's often been said - and at the awards ceremony, was said again by Will Fodor, the race's Director of Elite Runners - that the fifth mile is quite often where the race is won or lost. So knowing that I could afford to give some time back was helpful when my body told me it was getting close to the limit. I backed it down to a walk, got a little back in the tank, and came back up to a jog, several times over. One thing that helped me get back to a run at one point: the "Sea Legs," an actual live band playing on the porch of one of the houses along the road. I told myself "you can walk if you have to for a bit, but you have to keep moving forward. You can't stop. You have to finish." I kept pushing, past the five-mile marker, toward the final turn…

…onto Main Street. This "home stretch" of the race starts with "Pumpernickel Hill," named for the restaurant that sits at its base, on the southwest corner of Main Street and Fort Salonga Road. Atop the restaurant is a now-permanently installed sign, reminding runners that it's the last climb on the course, and that the last mile is all downhill. Well, that's not entirely accurate; there's a bit of a plateau before the downward slope to the finish. At the corner of Main and Maple Avenue, someone did have a sign that said "it's all downhill from here!" I thought then, "that's right. Everybody gets to the finish! We've come too damned far to DNF now!" In fact, I almost yelled that out. Just before the intersection of Main and Church Streets, someone had the theme from "Chariots of Fire" blaring. I thought it most fitting, given that that film won Best Picture in 1981, the year of my birth. Under the last traffic signal, a curve right, and a curve left…

…and the finish line is in sight. As I took that turn, I thought, "This view, from this vantage, on this day, is something I've thought about for so many years, and now, it's finally here." Past the six-mile marker, and I was close to pace. It was time to find some Liquid Schwartz to dump in the emergency tank of the Eagle 5 like Captain Lone Starr and Barf did in my favorite movie. Push. Push. That banner got closer, and closer, and closer, until it was finally close enough for me to raise my arms and pump my fists in exultant triumph… and just like that, I'd passed under it. The icing on the cake came when I stopped the stopwatch, and pulled down my arms to look…

…and saw the numbers "1:09:57." I had finished it. Holy ever loving bleep, I finished it - and just under my predicted time. (I'd told myself that the time didn't matter, that only finishing did - but I did feel a slight inkling of responsibility to the race organizers to get around the course in the time I said I would.) I grabbed some more water and a complimentary Huntington Hospital/Northwell Health branded towel, stopped for more photos at the corner of Main, Bayview, and Woodbine, and made my way to Village Park for the post-race celebrations and ceremonies. It was there, waiting for the complimentary Sand City beer to which I was most duly entitled, that I transmitted the news of my completion to Facebook and Twitter. At the time, I was choking back emotion, so much that I said that to a small approximation, it must be what it feels like to win the Stanley Cup. Because at that moment, there simply were no words.

I downed that beer, stuck around for the post-race ceremony and raffle, then headed back up Main Street. I stopped at the Wine Cellar on Main for my free drink - they most graciously allowed me to substitute a beer - and then dropped in just up the street at Gunther's Tap Room; as my brother reminded me on Thursday, a stop that absolutely had to be made. Gunther's - affectionately known as "Club G" around town - has a place in history more generally, having been the watering hole of Jack Kerouac when he lived in Northport. But it has extra special significance to my family. My late father was a dear friend of the late Pete Gunther, and my late mother tended bar a few afternoons a week there for more than twelve of my formative years. It also served as a reminder of just how long it had been since I'd last been back. That was December 2016; since then, the interior of Gunther's had been destroyed by fire, and it had been rebuilt and reopened. I stepped in, ordered a Budweiser, Dad's favorite, and basked in the glow of what I had just done. This Bud's for you, Mom and Dad.

From there, I walked back up Main Street to my Airbnb, showered, and cleared out and left behind the key. After lunch, I headed to Crab Meadow Beach one last time. That reminded me of the incredible bond between the race and the community that supports it - I didn't notice a single cup from any of the water stops, official or not, lying along the road. If you didn't know a 10K had taken place that morning, you would've had no idea. I then headed for downtown once more, treating myself to a glass of Race Day IPA at Sand City and refilling my growler with their Red Sand, before briefly milling about the harbor. But all good things must come to an end, of course, and the time had finally come to head back to Pennsylvania.
As I made that one final walk up Main Street to my car, I cued up a song I thought perfect for the epilogue. Its chorus:

When the bones are good, the rest don't matter

Yeah, the paint could peel, the glass could shatter

Let it rain, 'cause you and I remain the same

When there ain't a crack in the foundation

Baby, I know any storm we're facing

Will blow right over while we stay put

The house don't fall when the bones are good

"The Bones", Maren Morris

I said earlier that in those first post-finish-line moments, there simply were no words to describe what it means and why it matters that I went back home and did this. Well, with a few days of clear hindsight, I think I've found some. It's not simply the personal accomplishment, though that's certainly important. It's also the way my hometown came together and rallied around my brother and I after That Bleeping Day in late 2014. On that dark occasion, Northport reminded us in no uncertain terms that, as Morris sings, "we built this right, so nothing's ever gonna move it," and "it don't always go the way we planned it, but the wolves came and went, and we're still standing." Coming back and taking part in this signature tradition was an honor for me, and but a small repayment for everything I've gotten from my hometown. The Fates can take me and my family out of Northport, but they'll NEVER take the Northporter out of us.

As I made that last walk, I couldn't help but beam at a thought: This is my day. And nobody can take it from me. Though I did have a moment of pause on the southbound New Jersey Turnpike - did I really, actually do that this morning? - that bolded thought was confirmed upon my arrival home. The first thing I did after dropping my bags inside the door was to check the race website for results. They were posted. And on the list, deep in the 3100s, was what I was looking for: "Matt Carberry / 38 / Royersford, PA / 1:09:48.68." I had indeed done it, and come in just under my predicted time.

Any regrets? Actually, a few. One is not purchasing an armband to hold my phone. I instead took it around the course in my holster case, and that left a couple of marks on my left hip - thankfully, those are healing well. But the one that sticks is one that evolves from a comprehensive review of those results. At least three of my high school classmates also ran the course on Saturday - but I had no idea they were doing so, and so I couldn't find and reconnect with them in the park. One of them even flew up from Atlanta for this! But that isn't so big a problem. I looked at my 2020 work schedule and when other engagements fall on the calendar. And so, to the question of "will you be back next year," I can give the same reply that men's champion Futsum Zienasellassie gave to Will Fodor at the awards ceremony: "hell yeah!"

As I said in Part I, this year marks the 20th anniversary of my high school class's graduation, and the 125th of the incorporation of the Village of Northport. It's also the year that representatives of the country to which I gave six years of my life in defense won the Women's World Cup for the fourth time; one of those representatives was no. 20, Allie Long - a Northport native. In two weeks, I'll gather with many of my classmates on Long Island to remember and reminisce. To them, to all my other classmates, to Allie and her twenty-two teammates, to everyone else who ran on Saturday, to the Cow Harbor 10K race committee and all the volunteers, to everybody back in Northport, New York, and everybody else whose support got me around to the finish line last Saturday, I raise my glass - appropriately, currently filled with Sand City's Red Sand - and toast you all with these four words, and with all my heart…

"Northport. Forever and always."
christmas 2008

The 2019 Cow Harbor 10K, Part I: the road back home…

In Northport, New York, the town on the North Shore of Long Island where I grew up, the third weekend of September is one of the highlights of the year, a celebration of the community's spirit. Sunday is "Cow Harbor Day," whose name calls back what the area was originally called by English settlers (because cows grazed in the pastures adjacent to the harbor). The highlight of the day is a parade, which I marched in four times in high school. The weekend's other signature event happens on the morning of the preceding day - a 10 km (6.21 mi) run through the streets of Northport Village. The Great Cow Harbor 10-Kilometer Run has grown by leaps and bounds since its debut in 1977. Nowadays, it attracts a field of several thousand each year, including many elite middle-distance runners from all over the country.

And last Saturday, I ran it for the first time; not only that, it was my first ever organized running event.

The first memory of the Cow Harbor 10K I have is probably sometime in the early 1990s. My family went into Northport Village to watch the runners late in the first mile, at a family friend's house. We even had a folding table with cups of water for the passing runners; I definitely remember one of my elementary school classmates stopping and taking a cup.

Over the remainder of my formative years in Northport, I always thought of the race as something cool to read about in the paper, but never something I'd ever seriously consider doing, or even becoming involved with as a non-participant. I graduated from high school and moved on to Cornell, and then the Navy. Sometime during those years, the event's stature grew in my mind. In 2006, halfway through my six-year enlistment, I happened to be able to get back to Northport for Cow Harbor weekend, and so I decided to rise early on Saturday and take in the race from the finish line. And was that ever a year to be there. Ryan Hall, a recently turned professional runner from Washington, went out and crushed the course like nobody has ever done before or since. He covered it in 28:22, winning the race by forty-three seconds, and breaking the course record by twenty-two. In the (now) thirteen subsequent runnings of the race, not a single runner has gone sub-twenty-nine.

As I prepared to leave the Navy in early 2009, I first began to think about actually trying my hand at the course. But I allowed things to intervene. Taking five weeks to criss-cross the United States after officially separating, resuming my undergraduate studies at Hofstra... the race took a back seat that year. And so it did in subsequent years; in many cases, it conflicted with my annual trip to Ithaca for Homecoming at Cornell. Then I moved out to Ohio, and then I moved to Pennsylvania to take my current job, and initial license training has an intensity all its own, and then I got my reactor operator's license, but Cow Harbor stayed on the back burner...

...but the back burner is still part of the stove, and the thought still simmered. When I realized that Cornell had placed its 2019 homecoming in the first week of October, the window was open, and so I decided to consider it. I initially gave that consideration in a fairly expensive way - by buying myself a treadmill. (It was a Black Friday deal!) My NordicTrack 1750 is nice; you can download and follow workouts with actual personal trainers. It also has compatibility with Google Maps. Cool! That means I can program in my own routes! Here's a three-miler through Halifax, a four-miler around Mercury Bay in New Zealand...

...and Northport, of course. I put a few varied ones in there early this year. But once my mid-year vacation to Ireland was behind me, it was time to get serious about the second half of the year. You've said you want it, Matt. No better opportunity than this year. It's our high school class's 20th reunion. It's the Village of Northport's 125th anniversary. You took the required two nights off from work months ago. Do you really want it or not?

I finally answered in the affirmative. But that answer was not entirely dispositive of the question. Another condition had to be met: can you do it? I had been using the treadmill every so often ever since I bought it, but I figured there was one way to "stress test" myself. Program in the first and second halves of the course separately, and complete them on consecutive days at 5.3 mph (a comfortable 70 minute pace for the full distance), without varying speed or incline. On August 2 and 3, I passed that stress test. And so, later that night, I filled out an application and plunked down forty of my own actual American dollars to back it up.

For many returning to Northport to run the Great Cow Harbor 10K, the logistics of the visit are easy peasy. Not so for me anymore. I no longer have any family in Northport, after losing both my parents quite suddenly in 2013 and 2014, and my brother deciding to make a fresh go of it out West in 2015. I know a few of my high school classmates still orbit around our hometown, but I wasn't sure if any of them would be there last weekend. There was availability at the closest official accommodation, the Chalet Motor Inn in Centerport. But that could get dicey on race day if I missed an alarm and/or got out late and got impacted by course closures. So for only the second time in my life, I decided to turn toward Airbnb. And in doing so, I noticed a listing from someone relatively new to it, within the village, and close to the start line at Northport Middle Laurel Avenue William J. Brosnan School. And I decided to come up a few days early - the Wednesday before race day - to reacquaint myself fully with my hometown. After all, it had been nearly three years since I'd last been back.

In the following days, I continued to hit the treadmill. The runs got longer, and my capability to complete them was generally there. But surely enough, the inexorable march of time brought me to the afternoon of Wednesday, September 18 - and so the bags were packed and loaded into the Compass, and it was pointed northeasterly. After a long slog through mid-afternoon traffic, I found my way to Crab Meadow Beach, to the bench that bears the name of my late father. Then to James Street and downtown, to capture the views - a task for which the weather cooperated over the entirety of my stay on Long Island.

The next day I did much of the same, returning to my accommodation late in the afternoon. Its location was helpful for another reason - it enabled me to leave the car behind and head out on foot. I elected to do so and walked down to Sand City Brewing Company for a few glasses, and then up to the Seven Quarts Tavern on Route 25A, where I met my friend Ryan for dinner. It was very good to see him again, and we spent the meal catching up. But that task wasn't done by the time the meal was, so I asked him how he'd gotten to the Seven Quarts. When he replied that he'd walked, I ardently gave a four-word reply - "to the Wine Cellar!" - and indeed we headed to the Wine Cellar on Main back downtown. Along the way, I started pointing out what different businesses occupied various storefronts in the past. (For example: "see that gourmet olive oil store? I don't remember what it replaced, but that used to be Village Books and Things.") We stayed at the Wine Cellar until it closed, and shortly before it did, Ryan mentioned to the proprietor (with whom he is friends) that I was running the 10K on Saturday. She replied that commemorative shirts were on sale, and they would entitle wearers to a free post-race festive beverage. Ryan immediately bought one for me. Just after 11:00 pm, we headed out and headed home, splitting up at the intersection of Main and Church Streets. (I imagine that the entirely of this paragraph might come as quite a surprise to many of our late-1990s Northport contemporaries, because back then, Ryan and I were both teetotalers.)

Friday, as you might imagine, was a slog. I just rested up and took in more of the place, including another trip back downtown (alcohol-free this time). More boats were coming in by the day, and in multiple places on Friday, they were tied up three-wide next to the dock. It was one of the most impressive collections of luxury marine transport I've ever seen grace Northport Harbor; one that didn't simply need a healthy dose of "yacht rock," but DEMANDED one. I focused on the task ahead of me the following morning: control your breathing, keep your arms in tight, and stay on pace. To that end, I ran through the mile-by-mile splits that would get me to the finish line in seventy minutes, the time I'd put on the application form. I headed to the Brosnan School to check in and pick up my number and T-shirt. I was assigned No. 12033, which meant the actual moment of truth for me would be 8:42 am. (More on that in Part II.) I then headed home and turned in early, trying to get every ounce of rest my body would take. Before going to bed, I noticed something hilarious. The T-shirt Ryan bought me the night before bore the Wine Cellar on Main's address - but the "P" in "Northport" was missing! I'd planned to wear the shirt in the race, but now I really had to - just to point that out when I stopped in after running.

Finally, I got to sleep. Part II will recount Saturday - the prelude, the run itself, and the aftermath.

The one in the arena...

I spend most of my early weekday evenings Tweeting about Jeopardy!. While it's fun to opine and/or snipe from the sidelines, it was quite another experience to step onto the field of trivia battle and test my own mettle on The Jeopardy! Fan's podcast game show, Complete The List. It's Episode 47, "There's A Reason I Tell My Students That Dates Aren't Important." Here's the show on various platforms:
Beyond the great diversity of the trivia presented, there are several unique aspects of the format that make the game fun to play along with, whether you're actually doing so or just listening along at home.
  • Having written many categories for the show (and having had three of them played), the range of the knowledge challenged is massive, and the category names add another twist. Those names run the gamut between easily deducible (as in a couple of categories in my episode) to entirely opaque (there have been more than a few categories that were total surprises to the players who picked them).
  • The element of defense introduced by "cribbing," or repeating an opponent's response earlier in that pass for half the value. It can be advantageous in a category that you're not strong in... but if you pick a category that isn't what you think it is, you don't have the crib at your disposal.
  • The deployment of the double. It gives a player the ability to drop the hammer in a category (s)he knows, but delaying too long can be a liability; if you don't affirmatively double a round, the final round before the final is automatically doubled. I particularly remember Andy's father getting painted into a corner on a recent episode, having to play a category selected by an opponent at double points.
So, on to my recollections of the episode. If you haven't listened yet and don't want any details, spoiler alert: STOP HERE.

Round 1: Pack 'Em In. Didn't anticipate what it would be, but the reveal put me on firm ground - and so too with my two opponents. I was able to deploy a detail; knowing that the category author was from New Jersey, that's right where I went. After that, it was to small Northeastern states and also knowing that Florida was one of the most populous states.

Round 2: God Save The Queen. I had a suspicion about what this one would be, and when Andy confirmed that, I could not double quickly enough - but had to contain my enthusiasm throughout the category, to not let on to Pat and Troy that I was all over this one. This category was particularly in my wheelhouse because I had intended to submit it right after the game, under the category "Will This Reign Ever End?" (referring to Her Majesty). It was also a nice touch for me to be able to give New Zealand as a response; we recorded three days before I flew out on my last vacation.

Round 3: After a Band-Aid, Do This. Didn't have a great feel for this one, and it showed out of the gate, with me giving my first incorrect response of the game. The magic of editing hides it, but I recall thinking for a few seconds longer before finally pulling Cyndi Lauper. After that, I drew blanks - but playing each pass last, I had two options to crib from, and so I took advantage.

Halftime. Definitely pleased that I was didn't whiff on any of the eight years. The third question (year of "Everything" by the Bangles being released) was particularly an example of CTL strategy I'd picked up from listening to the show; I knew it was the 1980s, but was clueless on the exact year. Thus, give the year than ends in 5 to cover the entire decade, take the half point, and move on - perhaps I might get lucky.

Round 4: The Other Major League. Pat doubled, but I wasn't fazed; I knew I wouldn't drop any points with twenty-two MLS teams to choose from. Among the "portions not affecting game play" that were edited out was a query as to whether a city name alone would suffice; I mooted that, giving both teams in the only metro area that has more than one, and it was nice to get the team from my current area on the last pass.

Round 5: It's Really Hot. My second turn to pick, and this seemed like the least daunting of the remaining four - but even after the prompt was given, I was no means certain that I'd take maximum points, and breathed a sigh of relief that I did.

Round 6: Oh, The Books You Can Write! Ugh. Children's lit. As the intros revealed, both my opponents have young kids - I knew I'd probably drop points here. After giving Horton Hears A Who on the first pass, I dropped into the equivalent to "prevent defense" by cribbing. You can hear it on the last pass through, when I talk about slipping into a tie with Pat. I knew that by cribbing from him, we'd be tied if he was right and I'd have a one-point lead if not. He was right, and so I went to the last question dead even...

Grand Finale. My wager was based directly off standard Jeopardy! theory - which states that if you're tied for the lead, you have two options: everything or nothing. And with Troy only nine points back, the latter was out. The full sixteen it is. I had no idea what "Slowly I Turned" meant; I only just now looked it up and discovered the connection to Niagara Falls. I've been there, but it was many, many years ago; I didn't quite have a sense of how big the drop was. The reveal was deflating... but not as deflating as Pat's response, which meant that even if he'd maxed out too, the tiebreaker wouldn't save me. That said, I didn't step on Andy's attempt to build suspense that I knew wasn't actually there.

It's most fortunate that unlike Jeopardy!, Andy invites previous players back onto Complete The List - hopefully, I'll get another try at it and can improve on my second-place showing. There was another contestant call that I think closed recently; if you're a trivia fan, whenever the next one is, sign up and go for it!

Bonecoming 2017: the second and more contemporaneous part

A few days ago, I posted an entry about my trip back to Cornell last October, and promised to share a Facebook post I wrote shortly after I returned to Pennsylvania - here it is.

Necessary context: this was originally written on the night on Monday, October 23, 2017, and is unchanged from the original. I’d written most of it when I got the news from Oregon that my half-brother and sister-in-law welcomed a daughter the previous Thursday night - as it happens, after I’d arrived in central New York, and was catching up at the Ithaca Ale House. It was a total shock to both me and my brother - neither of us had any idea this kid was coming!

Anyway, on with these now six month old words... and SCREW BU, LET'S GO RED!!

For the past few days, you've come along on a wonderful trip through an amazing slice of my past - a slice that gets deeper and more meaningful with each trip back to the foot of Cayuga Lake. Some of you lived it - and your own good old days on the Hill - through my words and photos here. I'll add to those with one thought I posted elsewhere: "at postgame, it’s not how many notes you remember correctly - it’s all about the passion & memories the notes inspire." And some of you lived it just as I did - by reconnecting and connecting anew, forging and strengthening bonds that will resonate and reverberate through the years. They're bonds that will give each of us, the Big Red Bands, and Cornell University the power to stand upon an unshakable shared foundation, and the flexibility to grow and adapt with changing times.

But - and especially on this night, the night I learned I've become an uncle for the first time - there's one more moment I have to enter into the record. It happened back in my hotel on Friday night, after so much was so greatly said and done at Bonehouse. Those who know me at least fairly well - certainly those who've played trivia with me - know that my mind is capable of pulling deep. And in that post-two o'clock in the morning reverie, it pulled a quote from "Miracle" - "because we're a family..."

... and I totally lost it. Absolutely broke down in tears.

It's not just a family I'd want to go to Lake Placid with - it's a family I'd want to go with to Vladivostok or any other end of the earth. It's a family that three years ago, when my childhood home and my mother were taken from me in one fell swoop, stepped up and shared that burden with me, without asking for a thing in return... and when I wondered whether to share it with them, reminded me in no uncertain terms - now more than ever, tell the bones. And I know I'm not the only one who has been so warmly embraced in such a dark hour. Toby, we still miss you. Owen and Hannah too, both of whom I feel poorer for not having introduced myself when I surely had the chance.

Let me try to shift this to a happier note by channeling one of our fictional own, President Thomas A. Kirkman.

Cornell is not simply a university, nor is it the sum of seven colleges. It's an idea. A bold and righteous idea... any person, any study. And just the same as those who break new ground in research, and those who don our colors and take the playing surfaces... those who raise their instruments and don the same carnelian and white do so much to lift that chorus, and speed it onward.

It shall always be the regret of my life that my own actions and choices did not get me to the finish line - did not enable me to earn that Cornell degree. But it has been - and ever shall be - the honor of my life to count you as my friends. That honor is worth more than any piece of sheepskin, and it's a privilege to pay back a little bit of that worth each spring when the time comes, and each fall when I point my car toward where the compass of my heart tells me north is.

Whether I see you next month, next year, or further on in the future - and whether it's near me, near you, or back at our castle on the Hill - may the blessings of Ezra and Andrew forever fall upon you and yours.

Far above... hail, all hail, and love to thee.

You are here... and you are home.


May 1996. My high school band took a trip to Toronto. (We could do such things without passports back then.) The outbound leg of that trip included a stop at Ithaca College for us to play. As we approached, I caught a glimpse of a clock tower off in the distance. Even then, the East Hill had my attention. Tom Brokaw reading "pumpkin atop the clock tower" on NBC Nightly News a year and a half later did nothing to dissuade my mind. As 1998 came to a close and I'd taken my visits, I kept my options open, but I knew what I wanted - nay, what I'd set my heart on. Fees were paid, applications were filed...

... and hopes were fulfilled. A favorite podcaster of mine advocates for discarding celebration of your birthday in favor of your "achievement day." A few in the last nineteen years come to mind - getting my dolphins in September 2006, finally taking my bachelor's degree in December 2011, passing my NRC operating license exam in January 2016 - but getting the fat envelope on April 3, 1999 still rings clear and true for me. The enclosed folder bore a striking title: "The Case for Cornell" - as you can probably deduce from the words above, I'd long since delivered summary judgment in favor of the Big Red.

I matriculated to the East Hill; fun was had, mistakes (on my part) were made... but most importantly, deep and lasting friendships were forged. Notwithstanding my failure to take a degree from Cornell, it's those friendships that keep me coming back to Ithaca year after year. I was particularly ecstatic to make the trip last year, as I was coming off six consecutive night shifts. We made a decision to bring down one of our reactors to go and fix a problem; just as the last of those six shifts was concluding, a colleague and I had brought that unit critical again. That was a great jumping off point for Bonecoming 2017.

I'm not going to deeply detail the events of the weekend here. But I do want to reference two things - one short, one long. The first: a Tweet I fired off from the Schoellkopf Crescent, as the Big Red were well on their way to victory over Brown - "Awesome as #CornellHomecoming is, seeing tweets from those not here reminds me how poorer we are for the absence of they & their families." And the second is a lengthy Facebook post I wrote after I got back here to Pennsylvania - and that I had to re-write after my half-brother delivered some game-changing news to me on October 23. Those words seemed to move many of my friends on that platform, and I'll reproduce them in full here in a post to follow.

In the many years since I left Cornell, one of the things I belatedly realized about it is perhaps one of its greatest strengths - that it's big enough for everybody. Two people can matriculate at the same time and have completely disparate experiences. The East Hill truly embodies a certain title and lyric from Fleetwood Mac, one that I particularly recalled in Halifax on Canada Day last year - "you can go your own way."

Cornell gave me so many great memories, including a bunch that unfolded on patches of artificial turf. But as Cornellians, we don't define ourselves by what happens on artificial turf on any given autumn Saturday, nor by those seemingly eternal four and a half seconds on Memorial Day 2009. How might we define ourselves? Easy - not by those seven letters on a piece of sheepskin, but by how we bring our experiences far above Cayuga's waters to bear upon the world around us, near and far. One memory always keeps this in clear focus for me. Back when I was an undergrad, Yale came to visit us for Homecoming. As I marched with the band to the tailgate on Kite Hill, my friends and I noticed a gentleman holding above his head a banner, one that read "For God, For Country, and For Yale." I immediately knew how the Big Red version would read, and it hasn't changed from that day to today...


Viridi Montibus MMXVII


One ever-present memory from the 1990s was my family's camping trips to Vermont - sans my Dad, who quite preferred his golfing trips to Ocean City and/or South Carolina and/or Scotland. The rest of us made our way to the Green Mountain State just about every summer for between one and two weeks in a lean-to. After the summer preceding my senior year of high school, my mom and brother might have made one or two more trips. But that 1998 trip was my last, and was it a doozy. My mom being the traffic-averse person she was, she insisted on a departure at 5:00 am on Sunday - less than twelve hours after I'd returned home from what my high school officially called "Summer Music Clinic" at the now-defunct LIU Southampton; to translate that last bit for the rest of you, "five days of band camp." The short turnaround quite begrudged me, and my recollection is that my brother was also none too pleased. The combined effect of how we felt was to leave the trip cut short by multiple days, both of us having exhausted our mental energy.

My travels with the Big Red Marching and Pep Bands brought me to and through Vermont on multiple occasions over the next few years. By "through," I mean "on the way to Dartmouth," occasionally with overnight stays in White River Junction. And by "to," I'm referencing Gutterson Field House in Burlington - which was, during my first undergraduate stint, a member of the ECAC Hockey League. The Catamounts were also just coming off an infamous hazing scandal in my freshman year, one of sufficient gravity to cause UVM's president to levy the death penalty on the team's season. "Baby Elephant Walk" figured prominently in our repertoire in the years immediately following.

I must admit that I'd only occasionally given thought to Vermont in the intervening decade and a half. Until... I took some time off from work, time that I didn't otherwise have plans for. But the thought of that particular slice of my past gradually rang louder and louder in my mind - until about 4:30 on the afternoon of August 28, at which time I booked a room at the Best Western in Bennington - and about five minutes later, I loaded a suitcase into the back of the Jeep and took off. Five and a half hours later, I'd reached the jumping off point for two most amazing days.


From Bennington the next morning, I made my way first to the Vermont Country Store, timing a stop in Manchester to ensure I wouldn't arrive before it opened. I spent a not insignificant amount of time browsing, which led to purchases of a glass that sits in my cabinet, a bottle of hand soap at my bathroom sink, a calendar on the wall just over my left shoulder, and a sweatshirt that I'm wearing as I'm typing this. Pretty good bang for the buck, I'd say. Next stop: Killington. Our family didn't go near it when we came up here two decades ago... but for one, I wanted to see it, and for two, it had the Beast Coaster - next best thing to the Alpine Slide that Pico retired in 2011. I paid for one lift trip up and one ride down, and boy, did that ever take me back.

IMG_1473.JPGHaving satisfied that urge, I drove down US 4 to Long Trail Brewing Company. When last I was in Vermont with my family, not only was I not old enough to drink, I had no desire to. Both those premises are no longer true, and I happily indulged myself at the restaurant adjacent to the brewery. Long Trail is at the corner of US 4 and VT 100A, and it was down the latter that I was compelled to point the car after lunch. First, briefly, to the Coolidge State Historic Site. And then, not nearly as briefly, to Coolidge State Park, site of so many of those camping stays I mentioned back at the top. I hiked the trails, and basked in the natural beauty. Once that respite was done, I employed 21st century technology to plan my next move. Stay down here near Rutland, or move further up the state to pre-position myself for Wednesday? The latter course was chosen, and so I made my way to Montpelier. Not much to say about that except that stopping near the state capitol was most helpful in Final Jeopardy! two and a half months later - and that I think Austin Rogers would've enjoyed Positive Pie, and I wish I'd had the chance to recommend it to him.

IMG_1512.JPGWednesday. A lot to do, especially without the safety net of a hotel reservation on the back end. First up was the Mount Mansfield Toll Road, payment of the toll for which was money quite well spent. It got me within striking distance of the highest point in Vermont, and a hike of forty minutes or so put my feet upon that summit. I can't lay claim to being the first to the peak that day - just before reaching the top, I passed someone repainting the Long Trail's blazes. I was joined not long after by a father-son team, and so I got photos of myself atop the summit without having to hold the phone in my hand. After coming back down, it was on to a trio of Waterbury sites: Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Not Cows Ben & Jerry's (just a stop at the store, not a full factory tour), and the Cabot Creamery Annex store. From there, I pointed the Jeep northward on I-89 toward Burlington; I did manage to get a few shots at Gutterson. Further on through to US 2, upward through the Lake Champlain Islands (where the family also camped a few times), all the way up to Alburg...

IMG_1550.JPG...and this is where it got a bit dicey, though I wouldn't have had it any other way. Having looked at Google Maps, I knew I could get basically right up to the International Boundary on this trip. I did so, bringing the Jeep near the intersection of Line Road and Chemin du Bord-de-l'Eau Sud... that is, where they would intersect, if not for a certain demarcation running between them. And I was acutely aware that I shouldn't even risk crossing that demarcation, having discovered earlier in the day that my passport was back home in Pennsylvania, and having noticed cameras conspicuously placed overhead. I made my way back to US 2, at which point I had to take fuel; long drive back down the Northway ahead. As I pulled up to the gas station, I noticed a vehicle with a particular livery - one reminiscent of a livery I'd noticed on Imperial Beach in 2009. The tank was filled, and I prepared to turn right to cross back into New York State - at which point I saw the Border Patrol vehicle move. I initially made that right turn and pulled over, thinking I was about to have a potentially wide-ranging chat with the Federales. But they didn't pursue, I crossed the Richelieu, and the next two hours were without incident...

IMG_1568.JPG...but I was hungry, and I have to admit that my mind might have been overriding my body here. I knew that between Champlain and Albany, there was one stopping point on the Northway that I'd have trouble resisting - Exit 15N, US 9/NY 50, Saratoga Springs. 15N is the exit for the big-box stores, ones I recognized on sight at the bottom of the ramp. Fast food was eaten, and a question was confronted and answered: "It's been eight years. When will you be back... can you afford NOT to detour downtown?" And so I did. I parked on a side street and walked Caroline Street and Broadway. The activity level - to my mind, unusually high for a Wednesday evening - puzzled me until I realized that for the first time in my life, I was in Saratoga Springs "in season" - that is, during the six weeks of the Race Course's season that sustain the city and the area for the other forty-six weeks. Memories were recalled - not only those of prototype in 2005, but of visiting my former roommate and most esteemed colleague J. Raymond in 2009 on the night the King of Pop died, and we had to process that fact.

There were four and a half more hours of driving; the struggle was real, but it was overcome. I managed to guide my vehicle and the attendant cargo safely back to the plot of land I'd purchased eight months previously. The twelve pack from Von Trapp and block of Cabot Vintage Choice cheddar have long since been consumed. The bottle of maple syrup - who knows how long that'll be good for? But merging the best of my past with so much greatness of my present? Priceless...

A pleasant surprise...


There are still two 2017 vacations that I've yet to write about in this space - Vermont in late August, and Ithaca in late October. But as we stand now in early 2018, I'm just a few weeks removed from a trip much farther afield, to New Zealand. I'll get there eventually; now, I want to recount an unexpectedly satisfying interaction with the government immediately following my return.

The process of planning the New Zealand trip triggered a a few questions relating to pertinent documentation. I first secured a passport in preparation for the Post-Navy Roadtrip; while I did make one overnight excursion across the border, I had originally planned a much longer run through British Columbia and Yukon.* That planning brought me into contact with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which was scheduled to reach full implementation... on June 1, 2009, while the PNR was in progress. "Full implementation of the WHTI," as a practical matter, means "you need a passport, or some other equivalent document, to cross the borders by land - an ordinary driver's license isn't good enough anymore." After obtaining the passport, I altered the course of the PNR to an all-continental United States route - but it still proved useful, as I elected to cross the border to Windsor instead of staying a night in Detroit, a decision which I still consider the right one, despite there being a public sector strike in progress on the Canadian side. As I geared up to head to the land of the Kiwis around Thanksgiving, I started to wonder how far ahead of its expiration date I should renew the passport. The expiration date would have fallen this coming November, and some of the search hits I looked at said nine months would provide an appropriate margin.

That coincided nicely with my return, so I made it a point to be ready to send everything in as soon as I got back. I even completed my DS-82 form, and downloaded it to my laptop, during a layover at the Auckland Airport! Once I got back, it was time to tackle the most challenging portion of the renewal process - the photo. The State Department has very specific requirements for passport photos, and I was having a bit of trouble finding the right background. None of the walls in my house have walls that are painted white... but wait a minute, all the doors are! I set up lighting in front of one, snapped the picture (using the "square" feature of my iPhone's camera for the first time), and headed off to CVS to process the photo. The CVS was chosen not only because they could develop the photo at the right size, but it's right next to the post office here in Royersford. Thus, despite the late start (jet lag still having its effect on me), I managed to get everything into an envelope and sent off before the USPS branch closed at 5:00.

Why did I send the application in person vice simply dropping it into my mailbox, you may ask? Because State highly recommends that a trackable mail option be used. Thus I was able to confirm that my renewal materials had made the short journey to Philadelphia in the promised two days. The real surprise was the speed of the turnaround. Since I didn't need my new passport quickly, particularly having just gotten back from an international vacation far afield, I didn't opt for "expedited service." State estimates that routine service will deliver a new or renewed passport in four to six weeks, an estimate that includes mailing times. I received my new passport on February 17 - just ten days after I sent the old one in. And as for the processing itself, just three business days - the old one was received on the 9th, with the issue date on the new one being the 14th. I wondered on Facebook, "Who came up with that estimate... Montgomery Scott?" I was rather stunned, especially given my overarching world view of governmental operations. And no, the estimate isn't intended to include the time for Passport Services to return my previous documents to me - my old passport, two holes punched through it, arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon.

Kudos to Consular Services for their efficiency! Of course, now that I've got my new secure identity document, I've got no plans to use it in the near future - be that for travel across a national border or an internal one, should Homeland Security ever make good on their ever-present threat to implement REAL ID at our airports.

* Preliminary planning for the PNR had it reaching as far as Fairbanks, Alaska, as a tip of the cap to my family's 1999 road trip to The Last Frontier.