Tuesday, September 4, 2012

It's Downhill From Here

Thanks to the bone spurs in my heels, I've had to give up running.

In its place, and to get my necessary calorie burn, I've started walking the 1.4 miles to the nearby Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. Once there, I take on the challenge of the 282 unevenly spaced and incredibly tortuous steps and ascend to one of the highest peaks in the Los Angeles Basin.

A special treat awaits all who make it to the top of the hill. And I'm not talking about the spectacular view, from the peaks of Mt. Baldy on the right sweeping all the way to the far stretches of Catalina Island on the left.

I'm talking about the opportunity to view Los Angeles in all its wonderful diversity.

Boxers run the steps to increase their aerobic endurance. Housewives from Culver City climbs the stairs to erase those second glasses of Pinot Grigio. Entire Hispanic families trudge up the hill because it makes for inexpensive entertainment. But by far my favorite are the fatties, people pushing 300 sometimes 400 lbs. who all but collapse on that final 282nd stair.

I have struggled with weight all my life, so these folks have my empathy and my respect. But I am a little ashamed to admit that seeing them huffing and puffing keeps me motivated and makes me feel a little bit better about myself. Because there, but for the grace of a few breakfast buffets and a couple hundred pints of Ben and Jerry's Rocky Road Ice Cream, go I.

(If the folks who ran the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook had a suggestion box, I'd tell them they should keep a portable defibrillator up at the top. That hill is a heart attack waiting to happen.)

On the way home from the park I walk through a grove of pungent Eucalyptus trees. That distinctive smell brings me back to my very first day in California, a long, long time ago. There were no Eucalyptus trees in Suffern or in Syracuse, NY. But there were plenty in Westwood Village, before the UCLA Hospital started their expansion program and turned into a small country.

That Eucalyptus aroma transforms me back into a naive 22-year old boy/man with his whole life in front of him. Possibilities, dreams, lovers, friends, successes, failures, even children, these were all great unknowns. And because they were unknown, I had no way to perceive or appreciate the magic of the moment.

Occassionally I try to pass on this piece of jaded wisdom to my daughters, but they roll their eyes and resume their iChats.

Now I'm older, with a wife, two kids, a couple of mortgages, a never ending stack of bills, 3 cars, insurance premiums, property taxes, a lethargic stock portfolio and looming college tuition expenses. The carefree days of my youth are long gone. And with it, the always pleasant associations I had attached to the Eucalyptus.

The other day my buddy and I were headed to lunch. He got in my car and said there was a funny smell. I thought it could be some residual from my swimming gear. No, it wasn't mildew, he said, it was something else.

"Oh that my friend," I blurted out, "is the stench of responsibility."

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