They walked into the coffee shop
More zombie than human.
They shuffled past all the people,
More invisible than seen.

At least that’s what they were going for.

They ordered online,
Far from the bustle of those waiting in line.
They wanted nothing of the crowd,
All jonesing for the same product.

Coffee, duh.

They grabbed their drinks,
Not so much as a hello,
They sprinted from the store,
Never offering a thank you.

Assholes, hmmm.

The point of a coffee shop is two parts,
Coffee and conversation,
Some sort of human interaction,
Whether or not a person stays or not.

Put the phones away, yo.

Sit down, chat awhile,
Be more human, less zombie,
Shuffle in and become a part of the community,
Zap the apps… Talk to people.

It’s been awhile
Since the cosmos offered
A bountiful running-writing experience
Where the social aspects
Of graceful knuckle-dragging five in the morning
Fitness freaks was more important than the
Slide-rule, data-driven, goal-directed running junky behaviors
That I had allowed to cloister the life-affirming,
Soul soothing potential of good runs spent with friends.

On this morning when light snow
Fell from the darkness with a softness
That lifted my spirit while somehow
Inspiring tired legs to wallow on normally manageable hills,
Suffer through an eternally long warm-up lap
Barely clocking in at half a mile, the snow it teased and pushed
A steady stream of conversation
That ultimately proved to be fatigue’s cure
Due to its energy producing current
Which was able to keep a small group
Chugging down what seemed to be a never ending road.

Cars passed, bright lights reflecting off of the flakes,
Danger in the blindness they produced and
The sudden decelerations of the drivers
Who must have been cursing our reflective asses.
There was laughter at the thought of our own evasive maneuvers,
Gridiron inspiration with snowbank tackles
To keep everyone safe from the bull-rushing automobiles.
There were laughs at the image of babies being popped from the womb
In a kind of pimple popping way, complete with malice for the moment
And the kind of wisdom that comes with a decree.
There was that uneasy laughter that comes
When responsibility must be held accountable
And tough decisions about missed deadlines and certificates unearned come due.

While the cars and birthing room carnage are scary,
The thought of an 80s pop star slinking around on one leg
In the wee hours of any morning
While be cheered by nearly as old women
Who squeezed into their teenage fishnets and nuclear cooling tower breast cones
Very nearly had a few tapping out.

Age has no dignity…

Yet these runs, unlike the ones in the leftover sorority girl fishnets,
Keep me feeling young.
This morning with all the distraction
Took away from my realizing I was super tired.
It guided me to a place
Where I know numbers, but I don’t accept them as annual rings.
The challenge of working out each day is great,
The little bit of effort it takes to hang with my friends
Is easily, no readily, expended.

This morning was crystal clear for me,
Go to the Y, go in the Y, sit at the table,
And drink coffee while writing.

I wore trail shoes, no compression shorts,
A heavy baseball cap, and an energy
Better suited for dangling modifiers than hill repeats.

Unfortunately, I made a travel miscalculation
Arriving at the Y before the morning runners had left,
I became a dutiful sheeple and headed out with them.

There was the usual banter,
The steepness of Sickle was the same,
All in all the run was great.

With plenty of time to kill before work
I committed to the computer for some writing,
When I got hit with a severe storm of questioning.

An older head than me began his morning inquisition,
He started with the front desk attendant,
Trying to figure out schedules from months before.

Then he turned to me,
Asking who invented mayonnaise, a coincidence
Maybe of the cosmic variety given my current motivational quote.

It goes something about Pittsburgh not smelling like mayo,
But I had no idea who invented to sandwich spread,
I answered, “No,” and buried my head behind the computer screen.

“How ‘bout dem geese?”

His question threw me off,
Geese? What geese? Where are the geese?
No, I’m not sure which ones are male or female.

He kept talking, I kept writing.
Eventually, I put the screen down,
His tales and wonder being more interesting than my writing.

I’m sure I’m better for listening,
My man is conversational every morning
With anyone who will listen. He needs to talk. I need to listen more.

Being able to let go of my ego,
That one nicknamed, “Peacock,” all those years ago
Could use a little selflessness more than every so often.

So on this day of the last run,
The karma gods, I know that’s not exactly right,
Reached into my soul and unlocked some more compassion.

By the way,
Male and female geese look alike, bigger equals male,
We looked it up…

“And once you cease to be a real person, you stop being a real person.” Scott Speedman

Scarce are the times when letting a guard down is a good thing,
There are too many opportunities to make social mistakes.
Getting burned never feels good, but
Igniting the flames on yourself
Chars like nothing else.

Leaving the recklessness to others is an art,
Jumping into conversations like an enzyme starting reactions,
Then letting the others players make their way
Keeps the heat away
In the coolest way possible.

“How are you complicit in creating the conditions you don’t want?” Jerry Colonna

The yak herders gathered, gave big governments a finger, and got back to it.
They took their herds to the mountains,
Letting the yak experience their wild thing,
While the herders caught up with their old friends.

A bunch of adults logged onto social media threw convention out and got back to it.
They dropped their phones, drove their own cars, and talked to each other
Letting their friends know how much
They missed each other’s company.

The herders realized the world was changing,
Embracing the debt ridden ways of the other side of the world neighbors
They realized there was no money to be made herding yak
So they begged governments for assistance.

The bunch of adults began feeling withdrawal
A pineal pain from not staring at their phones for hours.
Their social stimulation waned
So they told their friends, “later,” and they’d hit them up on Facebook.

With about an hour until my son’s band’s show, I decided to hit a local bar for one beer. Lancaster is not my home town, so going to an unknown bar can be sketchy. I had driven past this old building hundreds of times, but tonight would be my first time going into the Swan Motel. The outside of the building was all Strasburg, vintage brick and 1800s charm. The parking lot was an unpaved dustbowl with plenty of room. I figured I would be the only person there since it was only about five o’clock.

I was wrong.

The door opened into a room with a pool table. A couple of long haired dudes in jeans and t-shirts where talking trash and eye balling what seemed to be an impossible shot. I didn’t stick around for the result, but judging from the yelling, one of the guys was really happy with the outcome. Instead of waiting, I had turned left and headed into the darkened room where the bar was. The Swan was a typical L-shaped Pennsylvania bar. A seating area ran along the back wall and then the bar extended into the middle of the room. As I passed from the pool room into the bar, a group of similarly long haired men and women were well into drinks and dinner. After them, two women with voices strained by a lifetime of smoking sat waiting for what would be a white bread turkey sandwich and fries. I sat at the end of the bar next to them. Beside me on the corner of the “L” sat a mother and son. She was creaky with white hair and I guessed she was pushing 80. Her son was loud, balding, and probably in his mid fifties. Next to them was a millennial who never looked up from his phone. Straight across from me was a walking tattoo parlor who could have been a hipster and he was totally into the bar tender. She walked inside the bar with the purpose. She brought the drinks quickly, leaned in when she talked, and wore the tightest most gravity defying suspension possible. Sitting in the crotch of the L was a Bermuda shorts, white tank top wearing perpetually smiling dude. He seemed more surfer than motorcycle and I attributed his smile to the speed with which he gulped down the drafts. A guy with baggy jeans, a tank, and a backwards baseball cap sat in at the other section of the bar. Finally, two couples sat at the only table. The women could not stop talking and the guys did not say a word to each other. It was almost as if the women worked together and the guys were just along for the beer.

The air was light and heavy. If it was a beer, it would have been a black and tan. The heaviness came from the cigarettes. Other than the bartender, I was the only person not smoking. Normally, I would have avoided a bar like this, but given the short amount of time that I had it was no problem soaking in the second smokes from all around the room. The lightness of the air was in the conversation. Everyone sitting around the bar, except the baggy pants guy who was off on his own, took part in the conversation. The focal point of the of all the talking was a soccer game on television. The United States women’s team was playing France in the Olympics and every so often the old son to my left would let out a loud statement that would be judged by all of us sitting around the extended section of the bar. Jason was unfiltered and probably had been since his mom had brown hair.

“I used to coach soccer,” Jason said.

“We heard you earlier, dork,” said Ellen, one of the smoke strained vocal chord ladies.

“Oh, I didn’t know. How hot do you think it is in Rio?”

“We don’t know,” said Jenny, the other lady, “why don’t you look it up?”

“Siri, how hot is it in Rio?”

“The temperature in Rio is currently 88 degrees.”

“Just like here, hot,” he said.

At that moment, one of the soccer players got kicked and went down hard. It’s hard to tell the severity of a hit in soccer because they all flop and this was another one of those times. The old son had his an inconsiderate opinion of her discomfort. “Get up, you p_ _ _ _! She got kicked in her…”

“We know,” grunted his mother in between her whiskey sip and long drag on a short cigarette.

“I’m just saying, mom. She can’t be such a…”

“I know, pussy.” Everyone started laughing. There was something about an old lady using such graphic anatomical language that was bar funny. Nothing that Jason would say for the rest of the night would be a surprise, neither would his mother’s protests over his inappropriate-speak.

The smiling guy, Walter, walked for the ATM. The bar was old school, cash only.

Ellen had finished her half of the white bread sandwich. She and Jason had either know each other for life or had a barfly like friendship. They spoke to each other frankly in an attempt to expose every nerve and push every button the way friends do.

“Jason, why don’t you buy him a beer so he doesn’t have to tap MAC?”

“You don’t even know his name. Why don’t you show him your tits? You’ll know his name then.”

“My name is Walter,” said the smiling guy. “You don’t have to show me your tits.”

“Just for that, I’ll pay for the first fifty cents of his beer,” said Jason.

The bartender took two quarters off the table from Jason and the rest from Walter. Everyone got caught up the game and there were several minutes of bar quiet until one of the pool table guys started the juke box. Robert Plant started belting out “Angel Dance.” This wasn’t the type of music that I thought would be played in this bar, but I was appreciative of the choice. The game was nearing the end when Walter threw out a curious question.

“When do you think it will be over?”

“The game?” asked Jason.

“Yeah, what time do you think the game will be over?”

“Well, when I coached the games were ninety minutes. I’ll bet you a beer it ends at ninety minutes.”

Walter played it off well. He took his time making it look like he was confused and then said, “Well I guess I’ll have to take the over. I’m betting the game is longer than ninety minutes.”

“That only happens if they go to overtime. It won’t happen.”

With the United States leading 1-0 late in the game Jason was feeling pretty good about his bet. Time wound down and the referee added the obligatory three minutes of extended time. Jason went ballistic.

“WTF?!! Why are they still playing? The game is over.”

Walter was laughing. The millennial looked up from his phone and said, “They always add extra time to these games. That was a dumb bet.”

Jason looked at Walter. Walter looked at Jason and said, “Gotcha.”

There is something about being taken in such a way that removes the remorse and solidifies enjoyment of being stung. Jason stood up and bowed. The smoke stack sisters added to the smoke in the room with a post dinner butt. Walter drank his free beer and stretched his sudsy smile as far as his mouth would allow. I finished my Bud and stepped back into the heat and cleaner air. I survived one beer at the Swan. I couldn’t wait to tell my son.

I grew up
In the historic triangle
Of Tidewater Virginia
Carrying a passport
Allowing free passage
From group to group
Somedays I would hang
With the preppy, college bound kids
On others with my
Brothers from different mothers
And when the sun was high
My neck was ready
For reddening

Life was easy
People were people
No labels were necessary
No classes in sensitivity required
Just respect
An ability to laugh
And a lack of pretense

My passport doesn’t get stamped enough
The circles have grown too small
Because I’ve closed the boarders
Taking too long to get to know others
Or keeping acquaintances at bay

Time to take a trip