09 May 2010


A few years ago, my son went to Thailand with a work group for a couple weeks, and he brought me back a treasure: a real Coke.

Remember what Coke tasted like before high fructose corn syrup? Sweet, but not sticky. In fact, it had the tiniest bit of a bite - just a hint of something, I don't know... spicy, or maybe even peppery. When you poured it into a glass and took a sip before it settled, the frothy bubbles tickled your nose. I know - they still do, but not in the same way. It was a delicate tickle, a light, icy sizzle, not the obviously bubbly pop-pop-pop you get now.

Back home, in North Carolina, we called them "Co'Colas." A coke - lower-case "c" - was any carbonated soft drink. (I expect it made the Coke people crazy, kind of like it does the Kleenex people when you refer to any facial tissue as a "kleenex.") The new ones, the ones they call "Coke Classic," aren't Co'Colas. They really are different.

Since Mitch's trip to Thailand, I've found if you look, you can get Co'Colas here in the States. You just have to know where to look.

Last week, my daughter took me on a field trip to an Asian market in the South End. I bought Chinese Five Spice blend - all the good Asian cookbooks call for it, but try finding it at Kroger, or even Whole Foods! I bought fat, crunchy bean sprouts, and I bought plum wine. And I bought Cokes.

Apparently, the Asian and Hispanic communities are not as susceptible to HFCS hype as we Anglos. I've known all along that high fructose corn syrup was (you'll pardon my saying) not the same as cane sugar, contrary to what the corn syrup marketers would have you believe. Yes, it has the same calories. Yes, it's sweet, just like sugar. But there's something about it - probably something in the process of condensing corn sugar into syrup - that gives me a blazing headache. So I've been drinking diet sodas for decades, ever since I made the connection using the doctor-recommended "elimination diet." Believe me, it doesn't take too many episodes of having your brain burst into flames and scorch your eyeballs from the inside to convince you that whatever does it is a Bad Thing.

But the thing is, there is also a difference in the taste. If you don't believe me - if you're absolutely convinced there is no difference whatsoever in corn syrup and sugar - get yourself to your nearest Asian or Mexican market and buy a Coke there. They still pack them in 12-ounce glass bottles, the kind we used to put a 3-cent deposit on, then got our deposit back or credited it to the next Coke when we returned the empty bottle to be reused. (Hey, we recycled in the '50s and '60s - who knew?!)

I bought two Cokes last week. They don't set my head on fire like the American-market kind, but they still have significant empty calories. I like to have them for treats when I've been working hard.

I just drank the second one. There's still a teensy bit of dark caramel-colored liquid in the bottom of the glass, under the ice. I'll sip Coke-flavored icy water for a few minutes more, as the ice melts and the flavor gets thinner and thinner.

And I'll wonder, as I always do when I have one of these fizzy, icy treats: How come we affluent, educated, diet-obsessed Westerners shrug off marketing hype and don't even question the corn syrup marketers when they lie to us? They lie about the taste - and there's real evidence they lie about the health effects. (I could get scientific here, but for the sake of brevity, I'll stick to the headache thing for now.) How come we turn a blind eye to the obvious? Clearly, enough people don't that the Coke people can continue to profit by making real Coke to sell somewhere.

Go figure.

07 May 2010

The new digs

The new job is going to be a challenge.

You who know me well know I'm at my best when I'm churning out words. I have never met a software application that could defeat me, but a couple have come close - namely, Access and Microsoft Project. Not that they're especially intimidating, but they do more than I've ever needed, and they require an equivalent degree of focus. My theory is that the software is supposed to make it easier, not harder.

However, I am process-oriented. I want to know the steps. Give me the directions from Point A to Point D, and I'll get there. And then I'll go back and look at the maps and bike the route and find a more efficient way.

This job is all about the process. Five different applications in at least three different platforms, with anywhere from six to 10 windows open at any given time, and you have to remember which is which and what the steps are as you zoom back and forth between this app and that. I sense a Six Sigma project to be worked up - which is great, because I've been looking for one for two years. After I learn the current route...

Meanwhile, I'm in a whole new space. To paraphrase one of my favorite heroines, "Toto, I don't think we're in Corporate anymore..." The building where I've moved has a beautifully restored, early-20th century facade, a hip, 1990s-industrial-materials-artsy lobby, and fabulous, Hitchhiker's Guide-worthy electronic elevators that shuffle people about from floor to floor in the most efficient way conceivable. Beyond the lobbies and elevators, though, it has plain beige walls, massive industrial columns stuck in the middle where you'd least expect them, and hundreds of cubicles - just like everywhere else, only more so.

My new space doesn't have the light my old space had, up the street in the Tower. There's no 9-inch glass panel at the top of the cube wall to create an airy feeling or a sense of awareness of one's neighbors. (There's also no piped-in "white noise" to mask the loud voice of the guy one row over.) And I have to walk halfway across the floor to get to a window.

On the other hand, that window has a river view - even clearer than the one from the Tower window. I have a wide-open shot at the Second Street Bridge, which is the central platform for the fireworks during Thunder Over Louisville, at the kick-off of Derby season. (The secondary platforms are two barges parked on either side of the bridge. It's pretty amazing. Fourth of July in D.C. can't hold a Roman candle to it. Honest to God.)

Up at the Tower, on West Main, we have the Kentucky Center for the Arts across the street. We have the Bristol a block up - a lovely mid-priced lunch, equally nice for dinner. Upscale casual. Two blocks up is the place with the red penguins... What is it? Oh, yeah. 21C. The 21C Museum and Hotel. Seriously upscale-but-casual. (I mean that in the most upscale sense.) Art to Be Reckoned With. Spendy drinks in the bar. I don't want to know the price of a room.

A block east of the Tower, there's Z's. They have "signature" martinis - need I say more? Great location for a Girls' Friday - where you sit in trendy upholstered chairs that don't let you get up 'cause they're so soft and squashy, set your martini on a glass-topped coffee table while you dish the dirt, bitch about whatever needs bitchin' about, and laugh for a couple hours - but not a particularly cozy hangout. Or one that fits into my budget more than once a month or so.

I'd never ventured much to East Main. When I was at Riverview Square (the Building That Time Forgot - and that Metro Louisville imploded to make room for the new arena) at the foot of the Second Street Bridge, there was nothing down there except the Marriott Courtyard, the sandwich stand inside the LG&E building, and a couple blocks of abandoned buildings that once were glorious. As far as I knew, there wasn't much to see at that end of the street. Even after I started passing through regularly a couple summers ago, when I started biking to work, it didn't look especially different. The businesses still mostly had that "old dive" look - bars and sandwich places, holes in the wall. My bike shop was down there, but on Market, a block south, and still surrounded by empty storefronts and second-hand stores.

Farther down, east of Waterside, were a few new buildings - sleek, windswept architecture between the old industrial places and Slugger Field - and businesses were moving in, taking over the old places and making them into antique emporiums, ad agencies, landscaping concerns. Some of them - the ugliest, most disreputable - were becoming luxury condos. Gentrification rules, right? But between Second Street and somewhere east of Slugger Field, it was still a mess - a falling-down, waste-of-space, could-be-wonderful mess.

This week, I've been settling into my cubicle in the Waterside Building. I've been establishing what I know, what I don't, what I'm going to have to work at. And yesterday and today, I went to lunch with other Tower expatriates on the east end of Main.

Thursday, Denise and I ate at O'Shea's, the new "Irish pub" in the 100 block of East Main. We've been there before - it's the new location of choice for getting-laid-off parties and crying-in-your-beer parties. Yesterday was the first time I'd had lunch there, and I promise you, the French onion soup is divine and the Caesar salad is ginormous. (And the overdose of fiber almost killed me later in the afternoon... but it was worth it. I think.)

This morning, I ran into Alex, my urban-gardening friend, on the way in from the garage. (BTW, the garage where I'm now assigned is worlds better than the one up on the "upscale" end of Main. It has light, cross-ventilation - and no mildew.) Later in the morning, I shot her an e-mail asking if she had plans for lunch, and we ended up at DeVino's, one of those "old dive" storefronts a block west. Inside, DeVino's is spacious, funky, and the decor is - what? Industrial Euro-Punk Urban Country. Perfect. Real. I want a set of lights like they have over the counter - a string of purple and gold grape clusters. Can't you just see 'em encircling the patio I'm going to build when this old deck finally falls down?!

And incidentally, I'm no longer willing to swear on a stack o' Bibles that Boomer's Canteen, up on the west end of Main, has the best BLT in town. DeVino's is damn good, and I got it with a side salad that rivals the one at the Come Back Inn. And that says a lot.

In recent weeks, I've also experienced another place I knew was there all along, a blues bar called Stevie Ray's. I'd always wanted to check it out, and I finally had the chance last month. It's another "dive-front," with - as it turns out - a good bar, live music, and an actual dance floor. And of course, there's Slugger Field - a favorite of my son's and mine, and we're meeting there after work next Wednesday - and a block west of there is the original BBC (Bluegrass Brewing Co.) location, where I've also never been. (I have been to the newer location on Frankfort Avenue, and BBC microbrews are available in stores hereabouts. They're excellent.)

So given my experience so far, I'm looking forward to checking out some more of the disreputable-looking places on my new end of Main Street.

I guess what it boils down to, at the end of my first week East of Second, is I'm starting to get it: the west end of Main is uptown. It's trendy. It's hip. It's upscale-urban artsy. Down here on the east end of Main is downtown. Funky. Dive-fronted. And wide-open inside - expansive and homey in an eclectic, indefinable way. Uptown was good for wearing heels and making sure everything matched (but not too much) and California Club salads at the Bristol. Downtown, DeVino's has the new Best BLT in Town. Stevie Ray's is the best venue for Girls' Night Out All Night Long Until They Call "Last Call." The cafeteria in the Waterside Building doesn't have low-fat ice cream, but O'Shea's has a lunch menu to die for, if you want to die for a lunch menu.

And - bottom line - downtown suits me fine.

02 May 2010


I guess I can.

I can if she can.

I will if she will...


My little sister - one of my best friends in this world - has just received a diagnosis of breast cancer. We've spend three days zooming from medical jargon to COBRA battle, from open vs. closed MRI to holistic treatment center vs. surgeon you know, from "fight" to "hide under the covers" and back again. Sometimes in the span of about 15 seconds, give or take five or six.

Oh, yeah - and from "there's the couch, there's the linen closet, you know how to use 'em" to "OMG, who cleaned the bathroom for me - I am SO embarrassed!" As if she had nothing else to worry about than what her siblings thought of her housekeeping.

To Little Sister - for the record:
  • The couch worked fine, and the linens were all of a highly acceptable thread count, which is more than I can say for some hotels I've stayed in. 
  • The bathroom wasn't that gross, and whoever cleaned it for you probably just did it as a favor, not as an oblique criticism. One less thing for you to worry about.
  • And BTW, the fact that he (face it - it wasn't me, so it must've been your brother) cleaned the bathroom probably had at least as much to do with my toiletries and sundry items covering the vanity as anything else. (Not to mention my black pumps on the floor and the two options for Wednesday Wardrobe on the inside door knob.)
  • And if you weren't freaking out, I'd really worry. I'm freaking out, and I haven't been subjected to the Invasion of the Body-Snatching Mutant Cells.

Much of my sister's stress comes from struggling to reconcile her innate need for independence with her health-imposed need for assistance. Even more of it comes from the fact that she's known for more than two years that something was wrong, but she couldn't get any of the healthcare professionals in her local system to do more than shrug. Bottom line: They didn't do the follow-up. They didn't check the details. They assumed. And they were wrong.

And some of her stress comes from the rest of us.

She knew something was wrong – and now, she has to get her head around the idea that she was right. And that she's lost two of the years she could have used to beat this thing. That she may lose both breasts instead of a little chunk out of one. That the tumors might have invaded other spaces by now. That the delay could cost her life.

And she's getting flak about "how the rest of us feel." Please.

Screw that. The average – or even above-average – human being doesn't have enough brain cells to handle all that. The rest of us are on our own; this woman needs to focus on what she needs to survive. And if that's hard to do – if it means she's all over the map emotionally and intellectually – well, blame the idiots who should have looked harder two years ago.

Okay, deep breath... Pedal on regardless.

What's the point? For me, it's how to keep pedaling.

I start a new job on Monday. This morning, I had to leave my beautiful sister alone to tie up the loose ends of the work we did earlier in the week. I haven't been on my bike in about eight days. I'm emotionally drained, intellectually fried, and physically in bad need of a good stretch. And I have my own annual touch-base with my GYN (who, incidentally, reminds me of my sister) in about 9 hours, which is why I had to leave Thursday instead of next Sunday.

So where does my "Pedal-On Manifesto" fit into this kind of psyche-crunching, body-slamming week? Okay... another deep breath.

What goes down must go back up. Sometimes it’s tough. Deal with it. Life's a bitch. On wheels. And it doesn't stop. (See above.) You do what you have to do. You keep moving. One foot in front of the other. One pedal rotation at a time.

If you let the fear of getting hurt stop you, you’ll never get out of the driveway. It might be easier to pull back, to disengage. This is going to hurt. No matter what happens in the end, it’s not going to be a fun year. But if I disengage, I lose time with one of my best friends. That's worse than having to endure some pain. Honest to God.

Life happens. Circumstances happen. You choose the perspective. No matter how you look at it, this sucks pond water. But in the last three days, I have learned:
  • The immeasurable value of that classic Southern approach of "catching more flies with honey than vinegar"
  • The importance of going to the source to be sure your information is accurate
  • The essential nature of second opinions
  • And the healing properties of dinner with your buddies – complete with fall-in-the-floor-laughing, disgustingly funny, "it really happened to my friend Barney" stories about body functions gone awry...

Keep going. I don't know that I can handle this. I don't know that any of us can. I do know other people have made it through, though, and I know if my sister will keep going, keep fighting, keep pedaling, I will. And when she can't pedal, we'll ride tandem.

She’s my baby sister. And I need her to know I’m right behind her, all the way.


April 22, 2010

I start a new job a week from Monday. New skills to learn - more technical tasks than what I do now, but still expanding on the writing and health literacy knowledge base.

I'm working from the road most of next week - loading up the computer and heading for NC. The bulk of what I'm doing between now and the office move is one-offs, anyway - editing short marketing pieces and letters to members. The big projects have been handed off already.

There's a threat of serious illness in the family, and I'm trying not to be scared. Success is elusive. I'm operating in gears B and D - Bargaining and Denial - with an occasional downshift to Avoidance.

The Tour de Cure is coming up in less than four weeks. It's great for Avoidance - lots to do, and I haven't done most of it yet... This week, for sure. Although I have been riding. Endorphins are better than meds.

And I'm scheduled for jury duty next week. The nice lady at the Jury Pool office sent me a duplicate Juror Qualification form and told me to request deferment so I could go to NC as planned. I really need to be there. I honestly don't mind jury duty - just not next week.

My desk  at the office is a rubble heap. I only just got boxes today. Guess I need to go down there and start putting stuff in 'em.