I’m Actually From this Planet

I have spent my first 49 1/2 years on this planet oblivious of my ethnicity. When I look in the mirror some things are self-evident. I am Caucasian, I have hazel-brown eyes and up until 20 years ago, I had brown hair. You might say I am an average white guy. However, unlike just about everyone else I know, I was unable to tell you where my ancestors originated. I couldn’t say, “Hey, I’m Italian,” or, “I’m Greek,” if anyone asked my heritage or ethnicity. All I could say was, “I have no idea.”

Why? I’m glad you asked. I was adopted when I was three days old. All my parents told me was that my biological mother was a single school teacher and couldn’t afford to keep me. Fair enough. I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, but grew up in western New York. I never really wanted to pursue my biological family because I thought it would be an insult to my parents. The topic particularly upset my mother, who always felt that maybe I thought she wasn’t good enough (this couldn’t be farther from the truth). Pennsylvania is one of the few states that hasn’t loosened privacy restrictions when it comes to adopted kids looking for their biological parents.

Today, Erie’s 100,000 residents are a hodgepodge of every ancestry under the sun from German to Yugoslavian. No Scotch-Romanian however.

It has been more than a decade since my folks passed away, so I don’t feel like it is disrespectful to go hunting for blood relatives at this point. Many people have encouraged me to. I have some paperwork in my possession that I could start that would get my foot in the door with Pennsylvania’s record keepers but I am not quite there.

I have always wondered about my ethnicity. What am I, really? In today’s charged political climate and the hot debate about immigration, I have thirsted for this information because I don’t believe that being “white” is a thing. There is no heritage or culture in just being white. We all came from somewhere else. We are all immigrants. The only people in America who aren’t immigrants are Native Americans. Everyone else either came from Asia, Europe, Africa, or hell, even Australia. I’m no anthropologist but I find all of this fascinating. As Americans, we have developed our own unique culture, especially when it comes to regional traditions and language, but we haven’t been a country for all that long. But just being white? That’s not a thing.

So, what I am I? Who are my people?

My wife actually had the thought that maybe, just maybe, my dad was my biological father. We can’t find my adoption records. What we have found doesn’t make any sense.

Within the last 10 years, I have become the keeper on my family tree. I stood on the shoulders of one of my cousins and filled in the blanks after she and her father did the bulk of it. My father’s ancestors, the Knaaks, are very German. My great grandparents left Germany in 1900 and came through Ellis Island. I have traced the Knaaks back to 1803 or so, I know where they lived, Mecklenberg-Schwerin, I know they were Lutheran, and I know what parish they belonged to. My mother was Korean. Her family and ancestors are nothing but Korean (as far as I know).

My wife got me a 23 and Me ancestry kit for Christmas. A few days later I cracked it open, followed the instructions, and sent my spit off into the great beyond. About a month later I received an email indicating my reports were ready. I only had a few minutes before I had to rush out the door to work but I pulled up enough info to proclaim to the house that I am … wait for it … here it comes … not German … not Korean …

British/Irish with Scottish and Irish Ancestry

 

When you dive into the reports, within the last 200 years, 23 and Me points to London as the strongest concentration of my ancestors; 8 million people live in London today. Mixed in with the list of points of origin for my United Kingdom ancestors – Glasgow City, Scotland, and Belfast, Northern Ireland. My more recent Irish ancestors most likely hailed from County Cork in southern Ireland. Although the breakdown says French/German for No. 2 on the list, the Netherlands (north Holland) is a strong contender for likely ancestors. Apparently what was considered French is greater than I knew. Germany is barely a blip on the report.

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Facial reconstruction of my maternal Scottish ancestor from Achavanich, HIghland, Scotland. Copyright © Hew Morrison

23 and Me offers plenty of rabbit holes for you to dive into and perhaps the two that I find the most intriguing take me back a few thousand years. They can tell you about ancestors through paternal and maternal “haplogroups.” Apparently, I have a maternal ancestor scientists have dubbed “Ava,” who lived more than 4,200 years ago in Achavanich, Highland, Scotland. The paternal haplogroup points to ancestors who were part of the Uí Néill dynasty in northern Ireland, who also spread to northern Scotland.

This information certainly helps me make some sense of a few things.

I have always been fond of Scotch (Highland in particular) and Irish whisky (of course there is a Jameson distillery in County Cork), and gravitate to darker beers – porters, stouts (I love Guiness, and I named my first novel after an Imperial stout). I don’t know if it has anything to do with my taste in food.

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I guess there was a deeper reason why I enjoyed London.

I felt very comfortable walking the streets of London when I visited in 2014. I love books and pubs. I could live in an Irish or English pub. I’m drawn to the sea, I have a year of my life underway – Ava was discovered just west of Scotland’s northeastern shore on the North Sea. I enjoy dreary, rainy, foggy weather (I just hate being out in it).

 

I have always been fond of James Bond films, almost obsessively so, Bram Stoker’s Dracula had a profound affect on me. Stoker was Irish. I love the works of Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron. I adore Hammer Horror films – the aesthetic especially. I enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories and shows like Ripper Street. Boring period movies and TV series set in the Edwardian or Victorian eras don’t do much for me. Much of my favorite pop/rock music originates from England and Ireland. It’s possible I had ancestors in the last 200 years from Manchester, where my favorite band – New Order – hails from.  More likely, some of my forebears came from Merseyside where Liverpool is. I enjoy quite a bit of music that originated there. Everyone knows I am a fan of The Pogues, who hail from London.

Maybe my British/Irish heritage has nothing to do with my tastes at all. Maybe it has everything to do with them.

Bringing this full circle, I am very American. I love American things. Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, cheeseburgers, amusement parks, all that – I am a patriot, I served my country. But I am not a wave-my-flag-in-your-face kind of patriot. I don’t believe in forced patriotism. I don’t run around telling everyone that the United States of America is the greatest country in the world. I am not naive or blind to the horrible things we’ve done as a country, as a people, in the last 245 years or so. However, I know the great things we’ve done as well. I believe in the American dream and realize that it is different for everyone. It is especially relevant for the immigrants who have helped make our country great, those who have contributed to our scientific advances and our national security interests, those who have brought their culture to our shores and shared it and enriched our neighborhoods and communities with their language and song and dance and art and literature.

In my day job, I have become a professional historian and have been one for the past year and a half. In that position, I am like a dog with a bone with my research. I have been that way with the Knaak family tree. I am nowhere near done with that. I’ve just hit a temporary roadblock. I have no doubt that I will dive into what 23 and Me has revealed about me through my DNA. I will embrace my heritage, culture, and history, celebrate it and learn it. I now have reasons to study the history of the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands and even Charlemagne and the Franks.

I’m not a fan of the royals, I think the colonies were right to rebel against England in the American revolution, British colonialism hurt more than it helped – but the history is fascinating and it is history that helped forge and shape the modern world as we know it today.

I now know what I’m not. I’m not German. But I finally know what I am. I am British and Irish with northern Scottish and Irish ancestry. I am also an American. But you know what? I am still a Knaak. And I always will be and I am proud to be.

I don’t think I’ll be trying haggis any time soon, I will always prefer American football (I might be talked into picking and following a favorite soccer team), I doubt I’ll learn Gaelic, but I may be convinced to wear a kilt.

Just remember, if it’s not Scottish, it’s crap.

 

An Evening with Bruce Campbell

First of all, let me get a little housekeeping out of the way. Please accept my humble apologies for not finishing the latest iteration of the countdown of my 100 favorite horror movies. I promise I’ll get to it. I was on deadline for my latest novel, and well, as they say, life got in the way. However, one of the films on that list is the reason for this post.

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The iconic Castro Theatre in San Francisco.

In 1987, I was on the verge of graduating high school and enlisting in the United States Navy. I had developed a friendship with a kindred spirit who liked some of the same horror novels and many of the same films that I enjoy. Our hometown of Rochester, N.Y., had a thriving midnight movie culture and we took them in on the the regular. These were not first run films mind you, not all of the them anyway.

Jean-Paul and I saw H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond and Re-Animator, Heavy Metal, Rocky Horror Picture Show and countless schlock “B” movies. Many times we were two of six movie goers in the theater, a few times we were the only two.

Evil Dead was released in 1981. We saw it as a midnight movie. What was intended to be a shocking gore fest and legitimate horror film had us rolling in the aisles. Then, in 1987, came Evil Dead 2. This second film plays more like a remake than a sequel and is closer to comedy than true horror. Buckets of blood are splashed across the screen, limbs are severed, and plenty of cheesy dialogue is spoken.

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Bruce Campbell introduces Evil Dead 2.

In what has become an iconic scene, the main character – Ash Williams played by Bruce Campbell – takes part in a typical gear up for battle scene. When he is ready to fight the evil with his new arsenal, which consists of a sawed off shotgun and a chainsaw, Campbell dead pans, “Groovy.”

Jean-Paul and I were stunned by the dialogue in this film, we couldn’t believe the lines Campbell was given. Cheesy was the only way we could describe it. Campbell taunted the demons possessing the living. This only got worse (or better depending on your perspective) in Army of Darkness in 1992 with lines like “Come get some,” “Gimme some sugar, baby,” and of course, “Hail to the King, baby.” Cheese yes, but part of the charm certainly, and one of the reasons why I love the films.

If I had to pick a year that forged our friendship, 1987 had to be it. Jean-Paul and I went to several concerts, I fixed my wardrobe and developed my musical tastes, and we bonded over our shared love of horror literature and films. Despite a gap in contact, and now a continent between us, we remain as close as we can be.

Last night, I attended “Who’s Laughing Now?” with Bruce Campbell at the iconic Castro Theatre in San Francisco. Campbell introduced a screening of Evil Dead 2 and then participated in a Q&A after the film. Sitting in a packed theater whose patrons cheered as if their team just won the championship when Campbell delivers, “Groovy,” was one of the highlights of the night.

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My view of Evil Dead 2.

Campbell was as funny, witty, and sharp-tongued as any stand-up comedian I’ve ever seen or heard. He regaled the audience of tales of the making of the Evil Dead films and the Ash vs the Evil Dead TV series and his place and turn in show business. It was a pleasure listening to him. I only wish Jean-Paul could have found his way out to California and experienced it with me.

It was a fun night. I put in for a beer at at the Twin Peaks Tavern before the show after taking BART and the Metro to get to the Castro District. I’ve lived in California for almost 19 years and this is the first time I have ever made it to that neighborhood or gone to that theater.

I’ve seen Campbell, a lifelong friend and co-conspirator of director Sam Raimi’s, in Raimi’s Spider-Man films, I’ve watched him in Bubba Ho-Tep, My Name is Bruce, Alien Apocalypse and a few other things. But with Ash Williams, he has created an iconic cult hero who I quote frequently. I use the word “groovy” in my vernacular because of him. I got tired of saying “cool.” “Groovy” means something to me.

More importantly, I bonded with my best friend over Campbell’s films and for that I am eternally grateful.

My Love Hate Relationship with Running

40554446_1929070970472585_1579221588832681984_nWhen I first took up exercise and healthier eating and living five and half years ago, I started with walking. I tried to walk at least three miles per day but I got bored with it and lower leg injuries started to get me down. Four months in I turned to weight lifting as well.

A family friend who is an avid runner told me that I was going to catch the bug. I told her she was nuts. I enjoyed a nice bit of humble pie with a side of crow when I had to admit to her that she was right. I had caught the running bug. I started with my standard, pat distance of three miles. My dearest friend, who just happens to be a cross-country coach, and former cross-country teammate of mine, told me I better switch up distances and pace or else wasn’t going to get any better.

Over time, I gained an appreciation for running. It became therapy. It became an idea incubator for my fiction writing. It became a sanctuary. Me, my music and residence in my own head. I ran a few organized 5Ks and I was building up to bigger races.

When I hurt my back in 2015, one of the toughest parts of recovery after surgery was not being able to run. I busted my hump to be able to get back to it and even had a 5K to train for to keep me focused.

A 2014 run in England hatched an idea. Normally, I travel a lot for work, as I have chronicled in this space. So, my regular readers will recall that I set a goal to run in every city I visit. The first year, I missed a run in Detroit because of the flu, the second year, I missed a run in Denver because I had the flu, and last year I hit them all, including Mexico City for the second year in a row.

The last run of the year and of the travel schedule was in Los Angeles. After that I must have felt like I had accomplished something. I no longer had the fire or the energy to run. I washed my hands of it.

Now, I hadn’t become a marathoner, hell, I haven’t even tried a half yet. I never managed to run an organized 10K either. My longest run to date is eight miles in Baltimore. In five and a half years, I have logged nearly 1,400 miles walking and running using the Nike Running Club app. I know that mileage is some people’s one year total, but I’m pretty sure I have logged 1,398 more miles than a lot of people.

I tried to pick running back up in March. Back pain, fear of injury, cardio-vascular degradation because of lack of running, tight quads and a terrible pace kept me from getting back to it on a regular basis. My last run came along the beach in Carlsbad, Calif., during a vacation back in June. That was more “Jerry wants to run on the beach in Carlsbad” than “Jerry is running for exercise.”

But I suppose that has been the point all along, right? Enjoy it. Run in different places. Experience the world through a different lens. I had forgotten that.

After that run in Los Angeles, you could say I fell out of love with running. After today, I won’t say I have fallen for running again, but it was a good first date.

And oh by the way, in case you had forgotten …

…I still run this town.

My Father’s Handshake

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How your humble author is spending his Father’s Day, poolside, listening to jazz and blogging.

Sorry, I know it’s been awhile since I penned a substantive Jerry Project blog. Life truly does get in the way sometimes. Between two book tours in support of my first two novels, working on the third, and the marketing that goes with all that, the day job and family life, the blog has fallen by the wayside a bit. I have gotten lazy with regard to memoirs and remembrances, content with just recycling previous posts about my parents on the anniversaries of their deaths and on special occasions such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

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John Henry Knaak, Jr. 1935-2007

A thought occurred to me when my 11-year-old repeatedly asked for high-fives the other day. From the moment our children begin to interact with other human beings, one of the first things we teach them is the high-five. Meant as a greeting and also the exercise of some cognitive ability coupled with a motor skill, I’m sure it aids in some kind of early childhood development. The slapping of hands can evolve into a fist-bump perhaps, but it inevitably leads to learning a traditional handshake.

I like a good, strong, firm handshake. I can’t stand dead fish handshakes. Have you ever gotten one of those from someone? I think I’d rather hold a fish. The whole hand, firm grip, good squeeze. I like strong, whole-hand handshakes from women too, not the dainty finger grab. Is that weird?

The handshake was once meant to indicate to people meeting for the first time that their hands were empty. That’s to say they were unarmed. Over time it has come to signify many different things – a greeting between friends, a means of introduction, congratulations, or that a deal has been struck.

We Americans have become a society of high-fivers. We do it to celebrate a great play made by our favorite sports team, we do it when our friend agrees with us or we are passionately like-minded on a subject, and sometimes as a means to give respect for a quip or a zinger. The “bro hug” often takes the place of a traditional handshake with mini-chest bump added in for affectionate effect.

Did Los Angeles Dodger Glenn Burke really invent the up-top hand slap in 1977? The up-top back-around to low-five was popularized (for a minute) by the movie Top Gun. There’s the two-handed high-five, and then there’s the traditional low-five which was more common in the 1970s.

But this isn’t mean to be a history lesson on the handshake or the high-five.

My father, the late John Knaak, didn’t give credence to any of it. Oh, I don’t think he minded seeing it on the sports field or court. (We did joke about athletes’ propensity to slap each other on the ass after a great play.) He just didn’t care for it in life.

You see, you had to earn my father’s handshake. It was important. It meant something. Even when he met new people he gave it reluctantly. I think I saw him shake his friend Jim’s hand once and that was after Jim had come over to fix our furnace. He’d just as soon have you call him “Jack” before he gave you his hand.

My father died in February 2007 at age 71, four months shy of my 37th birthday. In the 36+ years I knew him and had him in my life, my father shook my hand exactly THREE times and I remember each one vividly.

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Your humble author on the bump in Pony League action at Emerson and Glide (now known as Paul Bianchi Park) in Rochester, N.Y. circa 1985-86.

I was 15 or 16 the first time. I was a pitcher for my little league team in the Northwest Youth Athletic Association, which played its games at what is now known as Paul Bianchi Park at the corner of Emerson and Glide streets in Rochester, N.Y. I was the starting pitcher in an all-star game. I was a wisp of a thing at the time. I was a good pitcher that year, I struck out a season-high 16 batters in one game, and I averaged 11 strikeouts an appearance. My high school coaches never fancied me a pitcher, so summer league is where I had the opportunity.

Admittedly, I didn’t have my best stuff in this all-star game. My fastball had no zip and I was hanging curveballs like they were paintings. Even my knuckleball wouldn’t dance. My fastball never had much velocity, but on this day, my normally live arm was anything but. However, I scratched and clawed and scuffled and kept the game close. We were up 4-2 late in the game and a couple of defensive errors put two men on. The go-ahead run came to the plate, the clean-up hitter, the guy I had trouble with all day. I threw everything at this guy, even a KY ball, but he kept fouling pitches off. Eventually, I made a mistake and hung a curve ball out over the heart of the plate. I don’t think it’s come down yet. The three-run home run gave them a 5-4 lead and was the difference in the game. Although  I should have been out of the inning, I still felt like I could have salvaged it by getting this guy out.

Inexplicably my father greeted me behind the backstop after the game and shook my hand. I said something to the effect of, “but I lost. I just didn’t have it today.” He responded with something like, “but you battled, you didn’t give up. You fought hard.”

You see, dad was a high school legend at Scottsville High. Soccer, baseball and basketball – he had a page dedicated to him in his high school yearbook. He played college basketball. I never lived up to his standard as an athlete. I always managed to make the team, but I was never good enough to start. I was a bench warmer most of the time, I played CYO basketball for the playing time, and I gave up on Pop Warner football after two years. For him to shake my hand in this instance really meant something.

The second time he shook my hand was upon my gradation from Edison Technical and Occupational Education Center – fancy name for Edison Tech high school. In June of 1987, I graduated 15th in my class of 300, was already a member of the National Honor Society and earned the Presidential Academic Fitness Award. Also, I was already enlisted in the United States Navy’s delayed entry program. I had played basketball and baseball, and ran cross country. I was involved in student government.

After walking across the stage, collecting my diploma and exiting the George Eastman Theater, my father shook my hand. This one I understood, I had accomplished something. High school wasn’t exactly an easy time for me, but a lot of kids could say that. And considering the events of the past few years, there are thousands of kids who have had it way worse than I ever did.

A lot of good came of that time as well. I did graduate, I was accepted to the two colleges I applied to (even though I didn’t go), I eventually developed my musical taste (which has stuck with me for life) and I met my best friend, who is still that to this day.

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My mom (left) and dad (partially obscured by a balloon) greet me at the Rochester International Airport upon my return from the first Gulf War.

The third time came in 1991. I had just returned from Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm aboard the USS Saratoga (CV 60). I had told my parents I didn’t want any fanfare when I landed at the Rochester International Airport. I told them to just pick me up. They didn’t listen. I didn’t feel like I had done anything during the Gulf War. I ran my squadron’s tool control program. Yes, I was a trained flight deck troubleshooter as an aviation electronics technician, but for whatever reason, I was given the tool control job. I can’t say it wasn’t important, there were major safety concerns when it came to tools and the techs and mechanics couldn’t do their jobs if they weren’t properly equipped.

But I didn’t fight. I didn’t shoot at anyone. I wasn’t shot at. Sure, there were those occasions when we had to wear gas masks on our hips when intelligence thought Saddam Hussein’s forces might launch a SCUD missile at our ship. And yes, we had a member of our squadron taken prisoner after his F-14 Tomcat was shot down. And yes, a member of the attack squadron next door was also taken prisoner after his A-6 Intruder was downed. But for the most part, I watched the war on television like everybody else.

My cousin Debbie had joined a support group of some kind if I recall, and one of our neighbors, who was a teacher (again, if I recall), had sent a ton of letters from her students. I was greeted by a throng of people at the airport. There were balloons and signs and hugs.

And a handshake from my father.

I guess it was because I had survived a deployment aboard an aircraft carrier in a combat zone. Maybe he was just happy to see me after eight months. Whatever the reason, he did it and it was the last time.

My father wasn’t what you would call an affectionate man. Oh, he wasn’t one of those men who are incapable of showing physical love, he was just choosy about how he did it. He never denied me a hug when I asked for one and I have fond memories of sitting with him watching football, basketball and baseball games on TV. He was even known to snuggle with my mother on the couch while watching movies.

But that handshake, that meant something. That was important. It wasn’t given often or lightly and if you were fortunate to get one from John Knaak, well, you must have earned it. And that places you in elite company.

The Comic Con Podcast

On the eve of SF Comic Con at the Oakland Convention Center, fellow panelists and Trifecta Publishing House labelmates Mark London Williams and Samantha Heuwagen joined me for adult beverages and conversation at Sláinte in Jack London Square. We had a wonderful time at this literature-inspired Irish pub in the heart of the neighborhood named for Oakland’s native son and world-renown author, Jack London. Mark and I knew we had found a home for our occasional grub and libation get-togethers when we saw the portrait of Oscar Wilde on the wall during our first visit.

Location Scouting After the Fact

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The Sutro Baths ruins near Ocean Beach along the Great Highway in San Francisco.

As much as I like to say that it is not a substitute for actual research, Google is a wonderful thing for all kinds of things. Maps, satellite and street view have been especially helpful to me as I embark on this new vocation as a novelist. However, there is no substitute for good old-fashioned location scouting.

Several people who have read my debut novel, The Dark Truth, have asked about my settings and locations. The story is set in modern-day San Francisco and many of the sites are real. I have used Google maps extensively as I have plotted my characters movements. In truth, I have made up very few establishments and businesses. I think in two dimensions. This has always limited my graphic and artistic endeavors. I could never be a 3D animator. I’m not sure if I could ever be a world builder either.  My favorite Stephen King stories take place in fictional towns, with fictional streets and houses, and such. I fly by the seat of my pants when I write fiction. This seems to require too much planning.

I make up businesses and whatnot when the plot or the story demands. The Dark Truth in The Dark Truth is a fictional dance club that I conjured on O’Farrell Street in San Francisco. However, 98 percent of the story takes place in the real, actual, physical world you can visit today.

Numerous places in the story were inspired by a photo gallery I found on the official web site for the San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate.com. It was a gallery of images of abandoned places in Northern California and numerous images spoke to me as great hiding places for a vampire. I wrote about the inspiration for the title of The Dark Truth in a post on my official web site not that long ago.

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No spoilers! Those of you who have read The Dark Truth know what happens here.

In the SFGate photo gallery, I came across Sutro Baths. The photos were stunning and I decided to use this as the location for the climax of the story. If you can call looking at photos and Google satellite and street view “sight unseen,” I wrote the scene without actually visiting Sutro Baths.

This past weekend, I had the occasion to check it out and to be honest, I did pretty well in my descriptions and I was further convinced that I made the right choice for the scene. Now, I did miss some key details you can only observe by visiting. I may have to bring the story back to this spot. A hike along the Coastal Trail has me thinking about all kinds of delicious possibilities for the third book in the series, The Dark Terror.

A similar location scout, albeit ahead of time or in the middle of, helped me write several scenes in the second book, The Dark Descent. I did not plan on making Golden Gate Park a major location, but after a site visit, I couldn’t help but expand the park’s significance in the story. The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood also features prominently in The Dark Descent, and a location scout really helped me capture the flavor and claustrophobia of the area.

Bram Stoker wrote the Transylvania scenes for Dracula without visiting the region, rather relying on the equivalent of the venerable Fodor’s Travel Guide and travelers’ descriptions of the Carpathian Mountains and rural Romania for background material. By all accounts, Stoker did a pretty good job of describing his vampire’s ancestral home.

As good as modern tools are for research and inspiration, there is no substitute for actual location scouting and I will endeavor to do as much as possible as my career as a novelist continues.

Those of you who have read The Dark Truth can now see where the climax takes place and hopefully visualize and understand that scene, and hopefully agree with my choice.

B-Boy Running Adventures 2017 – Goal Accomplished

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In 2015, I set a goal. I set out to run in every city I visited as I traveled for work. I usually make 10 trips a year, sometimes a few more, sometimes a few less, and I thought this would be a great way to see the cities I visit and also keep me from getting bored with running. In 2015, I missed one run – Detroit – because I had the flu. In 2016, I made nine trips, and missed one run – Denver – because I had the flu. But I was able to add Mexico City to the list. This past year, I made 11 trips, including Mexico City again, and I nailed all 11. I was able to add a few to the list as well.

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The last two were polar opposites. I ran in Philadelphia on Christmas Eve, and near LAX in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve. Philly was fun and interesting, except for the young lady who wouldn’t yield to me on the sidewalk and thought it would be better to mean-mug me instead. The City of Brotherly Love was less than friendly as the streets were packed with last-second Christmas shoppers. Most were oblivious to runners and pedestrians as they skylarked their way out of the shops along the busy byways of this historic city.

I got to see some of the historic sites and old neighborhoods. There is such a stark contrast between east coast and west coast architecture. I grew up in western New York so I am used to the rude behavior, the cold weather (it was a balmy 39 degrees) and the austerity of the buildings. I ran 3.61 miles in 38:08. I would have gone further, but the pedestrians and traffic lights get to be a bit bothersome after awhile.

IMG_1850My route took me past Independence Hall, Independence Historical National Park and the Liberty Bell. There’s something to be said engaging in such a modern activity like running, with state-of-the-art Bluetooth headphones connected to an iPhone and a GPS capable mobile app, through iconic, historic neighborhoods. What exactly I don’t know, but there is something.

I only spent approximately 30 hours in Los Angeles and I was determined to get a run in. I met up with my buddy Sal and we headed out toward LAX. I really would have liked to run Santa Monica Pier, but there just wasn’t enough time. It was just a bit too far from where I stayed.

IMG_1972The neighborhood was unremarkable. I think I did this one just to get it done. We ran a full 5K and my time came in at 33:26, not quite race speed. It was a cloudy 51 degrees in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve.

I am quite happy with the fact that I finally nailed every city. I even ran in Lima, Ohio, on vacation over the summer.

Here is the complete list of the cities I’ve claimed with a run the past three years:

In no particular order

Philadelphia – 1
Pittsburgh – 1
Buffalo – 1
Chicago – 1
San Diego – 2
Nashville – 4
Los Angeles – 1
Miami – 1
Jacksonville – 1
Tampa – 1
New Orleans – 1
Seattle – 1
Houston – 1
Dallas – 1
Kansas City – 2
IMG_1855Overland Park, Kansas – 1
Denver – 2
Minneapolis – 1
Phoenix – 1
Mexico City – 2
Washington, D.C. – 1
Baltimore – 1
Cleveland – 1
Lima, Ohio – 3 (one trip)

I’ll even throw in Pennyhill/Bagshot, England, in 2014 here because that is where I got this idea to run in the different places I visit. That’s 25 cities, two continents and three countries.

I must admit, I haven’t run in a month, and frankly, I have fallen out of love with it for the moment. Don’t worry, I’m starting to get the itch again. In 2018, I’ll be able to check off a few new cities and return to some old haunts.

“City to city, I’ma runnin’ my rhyme.”

B-Boy Running Adventures: Another Crack at Mexico City and A Pleasant Surprise

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The view from my room in Overland Park, Kansas, shows part of my running route along Lamar Ave. to the left.

Kansas City has become one of my favorite cities in the United States. The barbecue, the people, the aesthetic. It’s more cosmopolitan than you think it would be. I get to visit KC once a year and I have my usual haunts. I have made a couple of good friends there and we usually see a few sights and indulge in the local fare.

IMG_1830This year I stayed in Overland Park, Kansas, not too far from Kansas City proper, but far enough to be inconvenient. I wasn’t sure where I would be able to get a run in. Since I started this little project of mine, Kansas City runs have been a disappointment for some reason, I usually stay at Crown Center and I have never been able to find a good route. When you think of Kansas, you think flat and boring. You would be wrong.

I made sure I was ready for the weather this time after the Buffalo debacle.

A quick map check showed two parks, Nall Park and Roe Park,  not too far away. The heart of one was 1.3 miles from my hotel. I figured I would run to that spot and see what I could find. I headed out and took note that the first 3/4 of a mile were downhill. Just before I got to the park, I saw a paved trail to the right and I broke for it. Little did I know I had just discovered the Indian Creek Bike Trail.

What a pleasant surprise this was.

The trail led east with Indian Creek on my left. There were plenty of challenging hills and rises that left my quads burning in short order. The trail took me to the Overland Park Bike and Hike Trail into the other park and I made a bit of a loop after crossing Nall Ave. and ran back on the other side of the creek after making my way through Roe Park. The trail featured wooded areas and wooden pedestrian bridges. I got 4 1/2 miles in. That 3/4 mile uphill finish was a bitch or I would have gotten 5 miles done. My thighs and calves did their best Roberto Duran impression.

IMG_1831The run previous to this took place in Mexico City. I ran this amazing city the year before and did not have great results. The altitude was a killer and I had to stop every 1/2 mile to catch my breath. I am in better shape this year, and after a blistering fast run (for me) in Denver, I thought I could handle it.

After running into Chapultapec Park last year, my buddy Sal and I decided to run the main drag along the park instead. We ran to a traffic circle that featured a beautiful statue in the middle of the round-about. We took a photo break before resuming our run. This was the only break we took and we managed to get 4 miles done.

The statue is was none other than the Angel of Independence, or El Ángel and is officially known as Monumento a la Independencia.

It was a slow 4 miles for me, but I ran farther and longer non-stop at that altitude than I did the year before so I’ll consider it a win. All Sal did was complain about how I ruined his average per mile pace.

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The Angel of Independence, or El Ángel.

The street was blocked off for a 5K that had taken place earlier in the day as Mexico City celebrated the Mexican Revolution, which began Nov. 20, 1910, and lasted for more than a decade.

I have fallen in love with Mexico City and I hope to visit again someday when I have more time to see the sights and sites.

My last two road runs have been in two of my favorite places, and frankly I am glad I stayed in Overland Park. That was the best run I have had in the Kansas City area since I started my B-Boy Running Adventures.

Now I get to conquer the City of Brotherly Love, another city in which I haven’t run. I’ll have to do my best Rocky Balboa impression.

City to city, I’m running my rhyme.

B-Boy Running Adventures – More Cities Checked Off

IMG_1445I am nothing if not a creature of habit, and if I visit a city multiple times, I tend to run the same routes. I am not always that comfortable running in unusual places, this is usually reflected in my per-mile pace.

I normally run the 16th Street Mall in Denver. While out and about at my two favorite haunts in Denver, The Tattered Cover bookstore and My Brother’s Bar, I noticed a park I hadn’t seen before. If I had it was during the winter and at night, so I paid it no mind.

IMG_1293Commons Park beckoned. The riverside trails were fantastic and I turned in a terrific time for a three-mile run. I was only in Denver for one night so I had to make it a quick early morning excursion. Running along the South Platte River for a stretch was very pleasant. I had walked by Confluence Park, a favorite spot of The Beats in the late 1940s, so Commons Park was a nice find.

I usually stick close to the hotel, and Commons Park wasn’t too far at all. I definitely left a lot of trails to explore and I will hit this park again next time.

Ah Buffalo. What can I say about this western New York city 60 miles west of my hometown? Late October weather in Buffalo can be unpredictable. When I was a kid growing up in Rochester, I went trick-or-treating in the snow a few times. Oh, it’s not like  was trudging through six-foot drifts in one of those God awful plastic/vinyl drugstore Halloween costumes with the “I can’t see and/or breathe” mask with the cheap-ass rubber band to secure it.

IMG_1387I had no idea where I was going. I just ventured out and ran through the local neighborhood. Eventually, I found myself downtown in the theater district. The weather was shit. It was colder than it was supposed to be. It was windier than it was supposed to be. It was wetter than it was supposed to be. I don’t mind running in a little bit of weather, but I didn’t bring the proper gear and I was ill-equipped. I managed to make the best of it and get my three miles in.

I have been to Buffalo numerous times in my life. When I enlisted in the United States Navy, I did all of my in-processing at the Military Entrance Processing Station at the Federal Building. I don’t remember that many churches in Buffalo. Most were neighborhood Catholic parishes just like the ones back home. Austere brick buildings with elementary schools or rectories – or both – attached. I had never run in Buffalo, and although it was a familiar experience because it was so close and similar to Rochester, it was a singularly unique experience.

IMG_1455Miami. Another new one. I had been to Miami before but I had never stayed downtown, and I had never gone running there. Well, let me tell you. All of Miami thinks it is a dance club. The area near my hotel was so congested and under construction I figured running there would be too dangerous. I figured it would have been a bad look to get hit by a car while trying to get my miles in.

So, I decided to head to Miami Beach. I had never been to Miami Beach before and an online review of the best places to run in Miami had the beach at Miami Beach at the top of the list. I took an Uber over and set out.

Most of the beach is what you would expect, soft sand, barcaloungers, and plenty of beach goers. It was a bit overcast and the sky was threatening rain. I was thankful for that. The sun wasn’t blazing hot in the middle of the day like I thought it would be.

The back of the beach, however, was packed sand, plenty good for running. It was a little softer than I would have liked. You don’t get the return on each step like you do on a harder surface. I didn’t mind, I was running on Miami Beach for cryin’ out loud.

I headed south and just past the two-mile mark, I came upon a pier. I took a photo break and then turned around and headed back to my point of origin.

All of the beachfront resort hotels operate concession stands with a variety of refreshments. I took advantage of the opportunity and finished my four-mile run with an ice cold beer. I planted my feet in the Atlantic ocean and took in the scenery with a celebratory brew. It was a straight-line run for the most part. I do like some twists and turns, but I won’t complain.

Next up is Mexico City again, I hope. I hope I have time to get one in this trip. I am in much better shape than the last time and I hope to run farther non-stop than the last time. The altitude is a killer. I did better in Denver this time. That was an encouraging sign.

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B-Boy Running Adventures Continue with New Spots and Old Stomping Grounds

IMG_1137The fall work travel continues and so do the B-Boy Running Adventures. Some of this travel involves annual trips to certain cities, and some trips to either new cities, or places I haven’t been to in a long time. Dallas, Nashville, and Washington, D.C. are the latest three.

As many times as I have been to Dallas, I have never gone running there. It was technically Irving, but I enjoyed running around Las Colinas. The weather wasn’t too hot and I got a good three miles done in 31:17. The ritzy suburban neighborhood near the Byron Nelson golf course was pleasant enough. The gym at the Four Seasons was a sight to behold. You can actually join this state-of-the-art gym with the fitness facility, and the tennis and the racquetball and the swimming and the fancy-ass AntiGravity Aerial Yoga nobody has ever heard of, provided you already own a small country (golf is extra). I’m not sure about the underground labyrinth I had to traverse to get there. I kept expecting to turn a corner and find a Minotaur asking to see my room key.

Nashville is a recurring theme, I have gone running there four times in the past three years, the last two took place at Gaylord Opryland. I had previously run just off Broadway and around Nissan Stadium, but the past two trips, I stayed at Opryland. Last year, I didn’t really check out the hotel property, but this year I did. Oh my, what a hotel. I’ve never seen anything like it. From the built-in radio station, 650 AM WSM, (where Pat Sajak once worked) to the conservatory and numerous bars, restaurants, and boutiques, it’s almost a self-contained city. It was a workout just trying to find the gym and you definitely needed a map, or GPS, or a Sherpa. I thought I was trying to find the Indiana Jones ride at Disney.

I ran by the Grand Old Opry by day, and walked by it lit up at night as I returned to the hotel after seeing Stephen King’s “It” at the local toomanyscreensplex. My pace and run time were phenomenal. I was really surprised. Last year, I had trouble plotting a route. There is an official 5K route that runs a loop around the hotel, Opryland itself and a nearby Bass Pro Shops-anchored spend-all-your-money-in-one-day shopping complex. Without markings, the route didn’t make much sense. But this year, I managed a better route and a better time. A full 5K in 29:36. I really am back to my 5K race pace. Losing approximately 20 pounds over the last 12 weeks or so has made a difference.

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My last assignment in the United States Navy was at the Washington Navy Yard. I got out of the Navy 20 years ago this past July. I have been back a few times, most recently 2005. The only time I ever went running there was to pass a physical fitness test. I wasn’t much of a runner back then, and I was a pack-a-day smoker.

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I’ve always known that the National Mall was a great place to go running and I found out for myself that knowledge was indeed correct. I got three miles in with a time of 30:43. My first mile was 9:01, blistering fast for me. I ran out of gas due to the heat and too many traffic lights so I couldn’t maintain that pace. But the sights were fantastic.

I started down 9th Street NW and headed for the Capitol building. I turned right on the National Mall and ran from there to near the Washington monument before breaking back toward 9th Street NW. Although it was late morning, it wasn’t too crowded.

Here comes the soapbox rant. I don’t know how it is where you live, but almost everyone I see when I am out running out walking gives a nod, a wave, a tip of the cap, a verbal greeting, something. Washington, D.C., runners are freaking rude. There were plenty of runners out and I got one acknowledgement, one.

IMG_1231Maybe they didn’t get the e-mail.

Okay, the soapbox is put away, for now.

Of the last three running spots, D.C. was the only one in “town.” I thoroughly enjoyed all three for different reasons. Nashville because I improved the route and my time, Dallas because it was new experience, and Washington because it was a new experience on my old stomping grounds.

I’ll be in Denver again soon and I am looking forward to revisiting a city I have a new appreciation for after more than a decade of loathing. The weather will be better too and I won’t have to pack the cold weather gear like I have the last few times.