Writer

My New Silver Sneakers.

When we last met…I was getting ready to dry out and to try to coax the six pounds off this ‘mature’ frame that I’d gained while stuffing my fat face with deep fried food and Sapphire Gin in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago.

So. Ask away. “How’s it going with that, Fatso?”  And my answer would be, “Meh.

It’s really, really difficult. The “Metabolize This, You Jerk” setting on my built-in personal Body Clock and Fat Analyzer doesn’t quite kick into gear as easily as it did 25-30 years ago. Back then just a few days of laying low and keeping my head out of the refrigerator seemed to take care of the excess garbage I’d carelessly tossed into my stomach.

However, now, what goes down my eager open throat …stays deep, down inside me…and, yikes!… expands. And then soon becomes a vast waist land.

Because of stuff like this…

image

…my Friday evening charcuterie plate. Good god…just look at that dish full of gouda, prosciutto di Parma, soppressata, anchovies and sourdough. I just can’t resist.

But resist I must.

Because sometimes my fear of not shrinking after gorging gets so bad I have nightmares that Cristoforo Colombo is staking claim to a whole New World he’s discovered just east of my deepening navel.

But this time…I promised myself…would be different!

I would shrug off the extra weight I’d soaked up down on the bayou…plus a few extra pounds for good measure…like I did years ago. I’d show Father Time my capable mind would win out over my maturing matter.

And then! Sonja to the rescue!

A couple of weeks ago Sonja was wandering around online…likely hunting down some  “Cooking Light” recipes…and discovered something called Silver Sneakers. Check out the web page with the link to the left. It’s a fitness program for seniors. And it’s free! Cool! I LOVE FREE!

You can work out when, where and how you want with “the nation’s leading exercise program for active older adults.” The “Active” and “Older” descriptions made me a little wary…but…you choose from around 13,000 fitness locations at as many facilities as you like. You can work with cardio and weight equipment, use swimming pools or take exercise classes. Again…for free. If you’re 65 years old.

Bingo.

All you gotta do is print out a membership card on the Silver Sneakers website…and find a fitness club that honors the program. So one day Sonja and I lumbered down to our local LA Fitness monstrosity on Scottsdale Road to get the, uh, skinny…and, yep…it’s true. We became members on the spot, gratis! All we had to do to get registered was take a guided tour of the place with a young stud the size of Thor. Of course, because most of the time free does not really mean free…post-tour, Thor sat the two of us down in his office and with the swagger of Cal Worthington, attempted to up sell Sonja and Gustav into $400.00 personalized training sessions and the like. “No thanks, Thor”, we said. “Sonja and Gustav are only interested in keeping our tickers going and maybe shedding 10-15 pounds…not winding up on the cover of Body Builder magazine”.

So for the past couple of weeks…I’ve been heading “down to the gym” as all the cool guys say, with my free Membership for Life card…to use the elliptical and stationary bikes. I’ve also been doing a few free weight exercises over on the floor area where all the sweaty guys in muscle T’s and cologne laced gals in spandex hang out. Don’t know if I’ll shape up after lifting…but it’s a blast checking out the social culture shock.

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“Be well!”… At the corner of Happy and Healthy.

“Be well!”

Is anyone besides me sick of hearing this cheery “Be well!”  bullshit every time we get rung up at a Walgreens checkout point?

You know the place…your local Walgreens chain drug store. The place at “The Corner of Happy and Healthy” as the company branding phrase proclaims.

Really…it’s more like, “A-ha…We’ve got YOU cornered and we’re SO HAPPY”.

Good lord. It seems like these stores are now on every street corner in America. Is there really a corner of Happy and Healthy on every street in your town?

Well, there must be. And it seems that Walgreens has found them.

Walgreens was founded in Dixon, Illinois back in 1901 by Charles Walgreen, Sr.

Turns out good ol’ Charlie needed a gig after cutting the middle finger off one of his hands while working at a local shoe factory. A drug store needed a hand. And whaddya know? It wasn’t all that important to have ten fingers on two hands to become a pharmacist.

Charles Walgreen was a hard working, creative guy….and as the saying goes, “The rest is history”….blah, blah.

I’d guess what Walgreens has become in 2015 is a far cry from the 1901 vision Walgreen had for his group of stores offering accessible, affordable medicine.

What Walgreens has become is a gigantic junk food and candy counter aisle on the way back to the pharmacy at the rear of the store.

There is shelf after shelf…foot level to eye level…of every imaginable, legal, unhealthy, ingestible, chewable or inhalant item known to man. Chips, dips, cookies, cupcakes, ice cream, buttery popcorn, donuts, pizza rolls, crackers, soda, candy, sweetened cereals and…hold your breath…tobacco!

Damn the cancer warnings and death.

The basic Walgreens corporate philosophy regarding cigarettes and tobacco products being sold at their stores is…

 “…a retail pharmacy ban on tobacco sales would have little to no significant impact on actually reducing the use of tobacco. Our goal is to help get the U.S. smoking rate, which has leveled off at around 18% of the adult population for a decade, moving lower again.” (Forbes Magazine, Sept 4, 2014)

I’m guessing by this statement, the implication is that the way to get smoker use reduced, is by helping to knock off the smokers. So Walgreens continues to sell cigarettes.

Does that same tobacco philosophy hold for Walgreens impact on reducing junk food consumption? Will high blood sugar customers who pass the junk food aisles and candy shelves as they head back to pick up this month’s insulin help move obesity and diabetic rates lower?

Hell…Walgreens might as well be saying to their customers in line at the pharmacy…”We can’t keep you from destroying yourselves with carcinogenic fumes and shitty food…so here’s some more crap for you to throw into your sick bodies. Next.”

Ka-ching. “Be well!”

I can’t help but think Charles Walgreen’s missing middle finger is being symbolically raised and flipped at us every time we hear that hypocrisy at any of the thousands of stores that bear his name on the corners of Happy and Healthy.

A pretty sad legacy for a hard working guy.

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October 2014. Paris, France.

Now in the homestretch of our six week European adventure, Sonja and I will spend the final five nights of it enjoying Paris.

This past drizzly Monday morning, we left Rudesheim around 7:30 am…567 kilometers standing between us and The City of Light.

It is also the last day we will be driving our frugal Renault Scenic diesel, Jane. Other than the fact that her computerized dashboard monitor has been warning me I’d better check her “tyre pressure” every time I push the start button…she has been a dependable ride since the first of September. There WERE a few times we all cursed Jane for incorrect GPS guidance…Sonja even called her a bitch a couple of times…but all is forgiven now that we will say “au revoir”.

We are booked to stay at the Hotel Brittanique, a small hotel in an ideal location within walking distance of the Marais district, Notre Dame, The Louvre and Blvd. St. Germain.

Of course, this ideal central location requires having to actually DRIVE into Paris.

For those unfamiliar with driving in Paris…it’s similar to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland. I swear, five minutes do not pass without the startling “eeeeeeYAAWWW, eeeeeeYAAWWW screams of police and ambulance sirens piercing the air. Driving there definitely requires one to be sure the life insurance premium is current. And that you have visited a WC before entering the city limits…because the experience WILL scare the crap out of you.

Avoiding the high-speed lane-splitting motorcyclists, insane Parisian taxi drivers, multiple pedestrians disobeying “Do Not Cross” warnings…and numerous on-rushing Citroens, Renaults and Peugeots madly dashing around every intersection’s round-a-bouts plot your fate. Most cars you see have multiple dents. I doubt owners ever feel the need for repair…when new dents may be lurking just around the next corner.

At the end of Mr. Toad’s Fantasyland adventure, our hero barely escapes Hell. In Paris, there is no escaping it. You just pray that the Renault wasn’t assembled by disgruntled French union autoworkers…and that the airbags volunteer to inflate when needed.

In short, this Paris driving thing is not an adventure for the timid. I was prepared to be aggressive. After piling up over 11,000 kilometers on European highways this year and last, I can tailgate at 130 kilometers per hour and blare my horn with the worst of them.

So, as our journey from Germany approached Paris from the east…Sonja and I prepared to tackle the task of successfully reaching Hotel Brittanique in central Paris in one piece…perhaps faithful Jane arriving unscathed. Sonja was so patient with me. 20 kilometers from the city center, she could tell my palms were getting sweaty.

“Breathe, Gustav. What’s the worst that can happen…we get stuck doing round-a-bout circles over and over until we find our way out?” With that vote of confidence, I kept two eyes on the road ahead…two ears wide open for Jane’s verbal GPS guidance… Sonja keeping a steady lookout for approaching lane splitters, big trucks and road direction markers.

Amid the traffic congestion, speed, noise and confusion…we made it to the hotel surprisingly fast…and alive. I found what appeared to be a parking spot smack dab in front of the Brittanique and without a second thought, grabbed it. We quickly unloaded Jane for the last time…and were immediately told, very seriously, by the front desk…that I was parked in a commercial zone and could be towed away quickly.

Well, that sounded like a sure-fire day killer.

I waved goodbye to Sonja and jumped in Jane for the 30 minute ride across town to deposit her back at Renault Eurodrive. She performed her final GPS flawlessly…guiding me past a myriad of boulevard closures, road construction zones, meandering cyclists and cellphone distracted pedestrians to St. Cloud…at which time she proudly proclaimed, “You have reached your final destination.”

Indeed, Jane. Thank you!

We logged 6,384 kilometers…3,966 miles…in just over five weeks of travel through France, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and Germany. Our tight little diesel averaged 6.3 liters per 100 kilometers…about 37 mpg. Pretty darned good, considering the three Americans it hauled all over Europe never missed a meal…including the “300” tongue-in-cheek kilos Sonja and Giga accumulated along the way.

I hopped on board the efficient Paris Metro for a one transfer, 20 minute ride back toward Notre Dame and the Brittanique…where I amazed Sonja with my speedy return and Parisian survival instincts.

When I had the chance to settle down and review our day of adventure on the streets of Paris, I decided…for all the turmoil and uncertainty present on them…I had actually found the experience to be quite exhilarating. It was really, really fun.

Our five nights in Paris were about to begin.

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Unreal Menton. September 2014.

A travel poster might read, “Escape Europe. Come to Menton.”

Menton, France is on the Riviera, a few miles west of the Italian border. It rubs shoulders on the romantic Côte d’Azur with affluent neighbors like Monte Carlo and St. Tropez.

Beyond the charming, colorful, medieval old town patina; the private beaches; and the prized lemons that bear it’s name, Menton can not possibly be part of economically troubled 21st century Europe.

The streets, shops and cafes are vibrant and filled with tourists from all over Europe. The weather is wonderful. The beaches are perfect. The sea beckons. Money is spent.

People watching is sport. 

Paunchy middle aged men are outfitted in yellow pants and orange loafers. They chew on fat, unlit cigars and stroll arm in arm with too young women in too tight clothes along the beach front boulevards. Mature women have Botox lips and tight, surgically enhanced faces. They drive black Audi A8’s, red Maseratis, green Lamborghinis or whichever silver Bentley drop top the spouse chose to leave behind that day.

Examples of “Old Money” are everywhere. Century old mansions with manicured gardens line the roadways entering town. Hundreds of extraordinary 40 and 50 foot marine yachts are moored at rest in the harbors and at the clubs along the coast. By day they make for the open bay, cruise to a comfortably scenic locale and drop anchor. Their passengers sunbathe in the awesome warmth of privilege.

In Menton, it seems the world is time warped to 30 years ago. It is insulated from the difficult present by its luxuriant past. And it may be the very reason Europeans flock by the thousands to this fun, entertaining Mediterranean nirvana each season. 

The current troubles facing most Europeans can be left back home by all of them. When they go to Menton to vacation, they leave the depression behind.

“Escape Europe. Come to Menton.”

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