Fitness Quest: July 2021 Update

Since we are now about half-way through the year and I haven’t done a proper fitness update in a while here you go!

Internal Health

The big news is that my Crohn’s disease continues to be under control. The bigger news is that my heart is working better, too. There was a concern in March that my heart function had decreased somewhat so my cardiologist put me on Entresto (you’ve seen the ads if you live in the United States) and it appears to be working. My ejection fraction has gone from 35% to 43% in the first three months. Since I tolerate the drug and am responding to it we are now talking about increasing the dosage a little to see if we can do a little better. From what I understand a normal ejection fraction is somewhere between 70 and 50%. So I’m almost back to the “normal” range. An unexpected side effect is that I could tell it was working because I didn’t have so many dark thoughts about death and dying as I’ve been having since this whole thing began. I’m thinking about the future again. The mind and the body are linked. If your body works better, your mind responds accordingly. At least that seems to hold true in my case.

External Health

I’m still staying active as possible and, according to my trainer at least, I’m doing things that men 20 years younger than me can’t do. Such as bench press more than my bodyweight. My weight is down since the beginning of the year and I see veins where I haven’t seen veins before (if you don’t know why this is cool, talk to your nearest gym rat). I’ve given up on ever having six pack abs for the simple reason that two abdominal surgeries have kind of mooshed things around. I’m still working on losing the layers of fat on my mid-section but between the scars and other issues I don’t know what I’ll find when that happens. Still a long way to go but my bodyfat is moving downwards with my weight.

Current Workout and Activities

Cardio will be a bit of a challenge as usual. My tap dancing is paused for the summer (we’ll start up again in September) and I need to get back to putting in my steps each day. I’ve been falling short of my 10,000 for quite a while now.

Like men 30 years my junior I’m still obsessed with arm size. So I’m in a little competition with another friend who lifts to see who can gain the most size on his arms in six weeks. In addition to this I am working chest twice per week and am currently going with a high repetition/low weight scheme on bench press. I’m working up to 100 reps over 4 sets at 135 lbs. (61kg) with my brother-in-law. I’m about 10 shy of the goal right now. Not sure what we’ll do next. Maybe back to 225 lbs (102kg) to see how we fare at that weight. I also workout with my trainer once per week.

I’ll be running – and I use the term loosely – in the annual Rose Run on July 10th which is a fund raiser for cancer research. I’m also doing a 25 push up per day challenge for the American Cancer Society. So it’s a busy month!

Summary

If I can keep up this pace I expect to end the year in a much healthier place than I began it. And with a more positive mindset, too. I don’t expect to win any marathons or bodybuilding competitions, but I sure as heck expect to be wearing smaller pants and lifting more weight! I might even be a better tap dancer too. A long shot I know.

I hope that you are all doing well in overcoming your fitness challenges and reaching your goals, too! Let me know about them in the comment section below.

Featured image by Photo by Victor Freitas from Pexels

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Why Reading is Still Fundamental

I find it ironic that by most standards literacy rates are at a world-wide high, but that interest in reading for pleasure or self-improvement still seems to be unpopular. I get it, so much of social media is visually oriented. Need to learn a new skill? Go to YouTube. Want to see pictures of cats? Instagram. Ideas to decorate your living room? Pinterest. Looking to waste an afternoon on mindless videos? Tik Tok. And so on and so forth. Heck, I haven’t even gotten to more traditional forms of entertainment like movies and television (cable, streaming, or otherwise).

I think that in a world with so many options for entertainment and information it’s easy to forget that reading is still fundamental. But I think it’s more crucial than ever and that our collective success depends on it. Here are a few reasons why…

Reading is Active

Read for pleasure.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

With visual mediums you are essentially a passive observer to the action. You sit there and take it all in. No effort is made on your part but to react. With reading you need to use your imagination. There are no sets, no drawings, no one showing you how it’s done. You have to create all the images in your head. And, bonus, reading fiction in particular makes you a kinder person by developing your ability to empathize and identify with other people.

Reading is Personalized

Unlike other mediums you read at your own pace. If you come across a passage that confuses you it’s okay. You can put the book, tablet, phone, or whatever down and think about what you’ve just read. You have time to think without affecting the overall experience. Pause a video too many times and you actually lose track of what’s going because pacing is part of the experience.

Reading Makes You Healthier

Read for others.

Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

Type in “advantages of reading” or “benefits of reading” into your favorite web search engine and you’ll find that various studies show there are actual physical and mental health benefits to reading, including but not limited to:

  • improving brain connectivity.
  • reducing stress.
  • lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
  • fighting depression symptoms.
  • preventing cognitive decline as you age.

And, bonus, reading makes you smarter too!

Reading Will Help You Get Ahead Professionally

Read to learn.

Photo by Rheyan Glenn Dela Cruz Manggob on Pexels.com

It’s true that you might find how to do some specific task through videos – I myself have used YouTube to get a quick refresher on how to create an Excel spreadsheet formula for example – but if you want ideas I think you want to read. Trade magazines, articles on subjects that interest you, books about a wide variety of topics, even fiction. You never know where that next brilliant idea is going to come from. My bookshelf is full or books that are business and customer service oriented.

One of my bookshelves – the black bar is a shelf support, not a book that’s blotted out.

What Should You Read?

The simple answer to this question is read whatever strikes your fancy at the moment. The beauty of reading is that it really doesn’t matter what you read. As I mention in the paragraph above, I personally think that everyone should read a wide variety of items. Currently in my “to read pile” I have a mixture of fiction, non-fiction, religious, comic, and professional development books.

It doesn’t matter if you prefer paper, which is my medium of choice, or a tablet. It doesn’t matter if you buy the book or get it from the library (one of our greatest underutilized resources). Just pick a few things out that interest you and get to reading!

My current read pile. Since taking this picture last week I have finished Jungle, The Anthropocene Reviewed, and Podcasting for Dummies.

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Fanboy Adventures: Meeting Butch Patrick

If you read my earlier post (Addams Family vs Munsters: Can’t We All Get Along?) you know that I’m a Munsters Maniac going way back. So when my friend Mark invited me to go meet Butch Patrick who played Eddie Munster in the original series I enthusiastically said yes!

Typically, I’m not one to attend “meet the star” events but I realized that this was likely my last opportunity to meet anyone from the original cast as sadly most are now gone. Other than Butch Patrick only Pat Priest, who played the second Marilyn during the original run of the series, survives. However, since she is now 84 I suspect she doesn’t tour as much as she may have before.

Trivia tidbit – technically Butch Patrick is the second person to play Eddie. The role was played by another child actor, Nate “Happy” Derman, in the unaired pilot. Likewise Yvonne DeCarlo was the second Lily as she replaced Joan Marshall before the show aired. However, unaired pilots don’t really count in terms of television.

The Munster Koach

We met each other at Freedom Comics in Toledo, OH a few minutes before 2:00 PM which is when Butch was scheduled to appear. He had already pretty much set up and was taking pictures and signing autographs when we arrived. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that Butch was traveling with a replica of the Munster’s Koach – which in my opinion is the second coolest car ever on television. The first being the original Batmobile from the Batman TV series, a show that also had a great theme song, and which, not coincidentally, was designed by the same person: George Barris. The Koach was kept in a trailer but we were allowed to go in and take pictures. The only rules were don’t touch and don’t sit!

The closest I’ve gotten to the Batmobile – my prized model. I think the highlights are red on the real thing.

Meeting Butch aka Eddie Munster

Me with Butch Patrick

We had beat the crowd and only had to wait a few minutes to meet Butch Patrick. Knowing that these days many (most?) of the stars from these fan favorite shows charge for autographs I had come prepared with cash. In fact, I had enough on me to purchase a copy of Butch Patrick’s Munster Memories which he did sign for me. We talked for a few minutes and remembering some advice I had gotten years ago about meeting celebrities I asked about his current projects. I was pleased to learn that he has several things in the works including a series of interviews with surviving WWII veterans, cars, and others. If you visit his Munsters Fan website, named aptly Munsters.com, you’ll find more information on what he’s been up to and working on.

Butch was pleasant to talk to and generous with his time. I’m impressed that while Mark and I browsed the comic shop and it’s wide-array of collectibles that the line to meet Butch continued to grow. Of course there were plenty of older fanboys like myself but a number of younger people, too. It was a testament to the enduring popularity of The Munsters. Possibly the popularity of Lidsville, but I don’t think so.

I got to visit with a friend who I hadn’t seen in person for over a year thanks to COVID, meet someone whose work I enjoyed as a kid (and today), and explore a comic book shop I hadn’t visited before.

All in all, a pleasant way to spend a couple hours on a holiday afternoon!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Dancing is Life – Things I Learned from Tap

I first took up tap dancing to add a new skill to my musical theater arsenal. I figured that someday my theater group would put on a production of Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein and I wanted to play the monster who, naturally, has a big tap dance number. Ergo I needed to learn to tap.

We never did put on the play, so far at least, but I enjoyed tap dancing so much that I kept up with it. In fact, I’ve been at it so long that it really is surprising that I’m not better at it – especially since I have an excellent, award winning instructor who has an unending supply of patience! But there’s only so much you can teach a moose. In case you are confused I’m the moose.

There are a lot of benefits to tap: improved cardiovascular health, improved coordination, it sounds cool, no one yells at you for making too much noise, and it’s just plain fun. However, over the years I have discovered that a lot of the lessons we learn in tap class also apply to life. Here, in no particular order, are some of them:

  • Keep looking forward: if you keep looking back you are going to fall. What’s behind you isn’t what counts, it’s what’s ahead of you.
  • Working together is easier than working separately: if you can’t figure something out, get help. Supportive classmates (or team mates or work mates) can encourage you and the group to greater things.
  • It takes time to learn a new step: no one puts on a pair of tap shoes and dances like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. As with any new skill you start slowly, build on what you’ve learned earlier until it all comes together.
  • Ignoring the rhythm leads to disaster: if you don’t pay attention to the music and listen to the beat you end up with a cacophony of taps. But together in tempo you end up complimenting the music to create something greater than either sound alone could.
  • Paying attention to the expert makes learning new things easier: there’s no sense in seeking out the best help if you are only going to ignore it and go your own way.
  • Not everyone can be the star: sometimes you get to be the center of the dance number. Sometimes you are supporting someone else. As long as the end result is pleasing to the audience the goal has been achieved.
  • Smile, smile, smile: attitude makes a difference. Sure you can be upset during rehearsal but when it’s time for the show, smile and don’t let them see you sweat.
  • It’s all about balance: if you don’t find your center and keep it over your feet you will fall down. When everything is balanced life is good.
  • Stay focused – especially when everything seems to be spinning out of control: when you are moving in a circle, keep your focus on one point and you won’t get dizzy. Focus keeps you standing and will get you through even the toughest routine.

There you have it. A few lessons from tap that will also support you through life. Oddly enough, they are similar to things I’ve learned doing theater which will probably be a future blog post (go figure).

Now, go learn something new and have fun doing it!

My tap shoes.
My trusty tap shoes.

PS – if you live in or near Monroe County, Michigan and want to take up dance I highly recommend Destination Dance at Monroe County Community College with Director Kellie Lajiness. If she can teach me how to dance she can teach anyone!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

A Squatch In the Woods…

Anyone who has known me for a sufficient length of time – let’s say a week – knows that I have more than a passing interest in the Bigfoot phenomenon. But, do I actually believe that an eight foot tall primate stalks the deep forests and valleys of North America? Let’s explore that a bit…

My history with Bigfoot

Is there a squatch in these woods?
Or maybe in these woods?

The earliest memory I have of being introduced to the idea that we might share our planet with undiscovered primates is when I was terrified by the appearance of the Abominable Snowman, aka “Bumble,” during the annual airing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The build up to Bumble’s appearance was so effective and scared me so much that I think it was several years before I actually had the nerve to look at him on our giant 24″ black and white television! Which might be more understandable if I didn’t happen to be 15 years old at the time…(just kidding, I was 4 or 5 at the time).

Flash forward a couple of years to a still young me, now out of therapy and able to watch Christmas specials on television again without hiding under the couch, reading the National Wildlife Federation’s April 1968 issue. This issue happened to feature an article on the Bigfoot mystery in Northern California. I could hardly believe my eyes – could such a thing be real? Unfortunately, unlike today where there is a new book or television show produced about Bigfoot just about every week, research resources were scarce in this pre-Google age. It wasn’t until my early teens when I stumbled across John Napier’s book Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality. Napier was one of the first notable scientists to give serious attention to the Bigfoot phenomenon. His book provided some compelling evidence, but no actual conclusion that Bigfoot or the Yeti (the primate said to live in the Himalayas) actually existed.

A squatcher is born

Clearly this structure could not be made by human hands. Only one answer makes sense…Bigfoot!

Napier’s book only whetted my appetite for all things squatchy. I devoured anything that I could regarding Sasquatch or the Yeti. I studied any articles I could find, I watched movies, and I watched docudramas like The Legend of Boggy Creek. Heck, even today I’ll watch anything that has Bigfoot, Sasquatch, or Yeti in the title. No matter how good or bad they are (spoiler: most are bad). By the way, I found the 1957 film The Abominable Snowman especially frightening and fascinating when it ran on Saturday or Sunday afternoon TV. Either on Sir Graves Ghastly or Bill Kennedy at the Movies, I’m sure it’s one of those two because Rita Bell’s Prize Movie was on during the week when I was in school. Man, I miss shows like those. The closest thing today to Bill Kennedy at the Movies is TCM. I’m glad they are keeping the tradition of talking a little about the movies before and after the show alive. But, I digress…

Other interests develop

The search continues!

Along with this Bigfoot fascination I developed an interest in world geography. How could a Yeti survive in the harsh conditions of the Himalayas (spoiler – they can’t. Most sightings are actually in the valleys not the peaks of the mountains)? How vast are the forest of North America? Where else have mysterious creatures and monsters been found? I became interested in other things – Mount Everest and wilderness exploration and tales of survival for example. My own passion for the outdoors never let up either. Even today, whenever I’m hiking I try to observe everything. Not only for signs of giant primates but for signs of other things, too.

In short, my curiosity about Bigfoot led me to explore other things about the world we live in. So my seemingly irrational fascination with Bigfoot led to a very rational exploration of nature. Ranae Holland, of Finding Bigfoot fame, in her TED talk explains this type of thing better than I can. You can watch her talk What Bigfoot Can Teach Us About Curiousity on YouTube.

So, back to the question I asked at the beginning of the blog – do I actually believe in Bigfoot? Well, the rational part of me says that the chances of a giant primate roaming the forests and mountains of North America is very slim. However, that same part of me says that it is unlikely that all those foot prints are made by pranksters. More compelling to me, after watching all those movies, is that no one in Hollywood has made a costume that looks like the creature in the famous Patterson-Gimlin film. Were a couple of cowboys really that good at faking a Sasquatch’s proportions?

Do I believe?

I won’t go so far as to say that I definitely think Bigfoot is out there. I will go so far as to say that people are seeing something. Maybe grizzly bears spend more time walking upright than we think, maybe there’s a spore in trees which causes hallucinations, maybe…I don’t know.

But there is one thing I know for sure. I would rather live in a world where the possibility of something like Bigfoot exists than a world where people are so convinced of their own pre-conceived ideas of how things should be that they can’t even entertain the possibility that there are things beyond their comprehension. That the world still holds mystery and wonder. That they could possibly be wrong in their perception of how things are because they are focused on how they want things to be.

Because beyond the limits of what you “know” is where the real adventure begins.

My collection of books on Mount Everest.

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Roller Coaster Prep: Tips to Better Enjoy Your Day of Thrill Riding

A friend recently asked me how he should prepare to spend a day riding roller coasters at a major amusement park. He asked this knowing that I’m an experienced roller coaster rider (I logged over 300 coasters before I stopped counting) and frequent visitor of theme parks all over North America (at least 70 in 25 states and 1 Canadian province). So even though my thrill ride days may be over on advice from my cardiologist, I thought it might be time to share some of my hard earned wisdom on how to prepare for a day of riding scream machines.

Tip #1: Pack as light as you can. You’ll be on your feet all day and most parks will not let you take anything on a coaster with you which isn’t strapped to your body. For this reason I’ve started wearing a small “fanny” pack with several pockets. These are good for keeping cell phones, portable chargers, glasses, credit/debit card, cash, keys and sunscreen on hand without weighing you down. An alternative to the small pack are cargo shorts with velcro or zippered pockets.

If you feel for some reason that you can’t pack light, many parks that specialize in thrill rides will have lockers located near the ride entrances. These are usually fee based. In the old days you could use a coin to rent a locker. Now days you will need a credit or debit card. Some parks, like Cedar Point, will also have “boxes” at the loading station that you can put your belongings in. You do use these boxes at your own risk, but I can tell you that I’ve never experienced a problem with someone taking my stuff from one of these boxes over the years. However, accidents do happen especially if you hat looks like another one in the same bin.

Walt Disney World parks are an exception to this tip. You can take a small back pack with you if you like as almost all of their rides have pockets or space for you to put the pack at your feet.

Tip #2: Only take your car keys into the park. There’s no need to risk losing anything more than that on a ride. Leave your house keys, etc. locked in your car and safely out of sight (glove compartment or under the seat). Likewise, I don’t take my wallet with me anymore either. Most parks now accept credit/debit cards at all their retail locations and if they don’t you can stuff a few bills into a pocket or the above mentioned fanny pack.

Tip 3#: Wear a hat. Especially for those of us who are “follicly-challenged.” However, don’t wear your favorite hat as you’ll want to sit on it when you are riding the rides (to prevent it from blowing off). I’ve lost a couple over the years because I’ve left them on the seat of the ride.

Tip #4: If you wear glasses pick up some sport straps to hold them onto your head while riding. The park may even sell them, but you can likely get them cheaper at a retailer near you. Be aware that some parks consider a few of the coasters to be so physical that you may not even wear glasses which are strapped on.

Tip #5: Follow the rules! They are there for your safety. Roller coasters on the whole are a safe form of amusement and you are more likely to have an accident driving to the park than on a ride. Generally when someone gets injured, or worse, it’s because they were not following the rules. For example: going beyond fences to retrieve a dropped item is an enormous risk and people have been killed doing this.

Tip #6: Check the park’s website before visiting. Most every park lists basic information regarding ride specifics (rider’s height and other physical limitations for example) and facilities (lockers). Taking a few minutes to “know before you go” will make your day more enjoyable.

Tip #7: Take breaks. Riding roller coasters can be physically demanding even though in most cases you are sitting down. Twisting and turning at high speeds can upset even the hardiest of us. Don’t be afraid to throw a dark ride or two into your day between thrills. This tip isn’t as crucial if you have to wait and hour or more between rides due to the length of the lines.

There you have them, my top tips to better enjoy your day of thrill seeking at your favorite amusement park. I’d love to hear yours – be sure to comment and share your top ideas.

Ride on!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Fitness Quest: Healthy Aging

Someone once, I can’t remember who, described aging best: you’re old when you drop something and you have to decide if it’s worth bending over to pick it up or if you can learn to live without it.

This observation seemed like a funny joke when I first heard it, but today it strikes a little too close to home. I don’t know about you but every day I wake up with some new little snap, crackle, or pop and I don’t mean in my cereal bowl! The sad truth is that time has a way with catching up to all of us sooner or later and no matter how we fight it we have to admit that we might be just a little bit past our prime as we enter our golden years (not that I’m there yet *cough*).

The problem as I see it is that most of us surrender to the inevitable way, way too soon. There are reports that for each decade past the age of 30 that men will lose between 3 and 5% of their muscle mass resulting in a loss of 30% of their muscle in their lifetimes (compared to their twenties). Moreover, there are also studies that show most people will also gain 1 or 2 pounds a year at the same time. Why? Well, no doubt some of this is because of the natural aging process. But I maintain it’s also because at some point in their youth most people just decide that it’s not worth the effort to stay fit anymore. They sit down in front of their TVs, laptops, tablets, phones, whatever and just don’t get up. Maybe it’s because of some pain or stiffness in the joints. Maybe it’s just because they feel tired all the time. Maybe it’s just because of <insert reason here>. Maybe it really is because of some serious medical condition – but I’m guessing that if you are still reading this that it’s not in your case and you are really looking for the key to staying healthy longer. Well here it is: exercise.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to workout like a pro-athlete or get up and run marathons several times a year (though you can if you want). I’m suggesting that even a moderate amount of movement each day, along with a little weight bearing exercise (body or actual weights) can help you maintain strength, balance, and keep those pounds off as you get older. Along with a healthy diet, of course.

Skinny me in my twenties!
Not so skinny me today. Yes, there’s still some muscle under the fat.

I’ll use myself as an example. Based on photographic evidence I was always a fairly skinny guy through my teens and into my twenties. At one point after my Crohn’s revealed itself I only weighed about 130 – 140 pounds for a while at a height of about 5’11”. However, over the course of my thirties and forties instead of losing muscle mass as the experts would predict I nearly doubled my bodyweight. Certainly, a lot of my mass gained was fat but I also increased my strength from bench pressing 95 pounds (43 kg) to a 1 rep max lift of 350 pounds (159 kg) in my late forties. In other words, at an age when my strength should have been declining, thanks to regular exercise my strength increase more than threefold.

Even today, though I don’t lift heavy to protect my joints, my 1 rep max lift is calculated to be at about 315 pounds (143 kg). Okay, I just said that to brag since it’s a decrease in strength over the past decade it doesn’t really support my overall point. Going on…

Now I may not be the best example, because thanks to Crohn’s I was not at full strength for a good chunk of my twenties or even good health. The onset of my disease did set me back a fair amount and I lost gains that I had made earlier during college. Not that I was a beefcake before Crohn’s reared it’s life altering head. But my point remains, instead of losing muscle over the next twenty years I gained muscle through regular exercise. Likewise, my regular training partner, who did not suffer from the same medical conditions and setbacks I did, also gained muscle and strength during this period. To me we are both examples that the “ravages of time” can at the very least be slowed down if not out right reversed through regular weight bearing exercise.

And it’s never too late to start. Studies have shown that people in their seventies, eighties and beyond are capable of gaining muscle and strength with just moderate weightlifting. Now granted as we age our joints maybe can’t take the strain of very heavy lifting and certainly recovery time is greater. Even I have to admit that I’m unlikely to be able to win the title of Mr. Olympia no matter how hard I train or even become a social media fitness model (shocking, I know). But I do know that if I fall down I have the strength to get up and, more importantly, I have the strength to squat without having to use the handles in the handicap stall in a public restroom. Practical strength is valuable as we age – trust me. Also, bonus, weight bearing exercises also keep your bones strong.

Even if weights aren’t your thing, there is value in just getting up and moving each day. Take a brisk walk, do some yoga or stretching, find some way to move. This will improve your cardiovascular system and balance, too.

Exercise alone doesn’t solve every issue of aging. Arthritis and other issue will likely cause your joints to ache. As I age I find I have to pay attention to other things, too. Diet, obviously, and also posture. Years of spending my days hunched over a computer keyboard have taken a toll. Both in terms of stiffness in my shoulders and in what is now sometimes called “nerd neck” (really). It may take some effort to get back into the habit of standing tall, gut in, shoulders back, chest out, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Good posture can make you look better and feel better – even as you get older!

Sadly, there are no guarantees in life and exercise isn’t a panacea for all conditions. The reality is that you can do everything right and still get sick. Take me for example, as I mentioned earlier I have Crohn’s disease. This condition, which is of unknown origin still today, may have been partly responsible for the heart attack which damaged – and continues to damage – my heart. I suffered a bowel perforation from the damage that Crohn’s did to my intestines, which resulted in me becoming an ostomate for several months. Though the surgery saved my life and I’ve been “reconnected” my digestive system doesn’t work at peak performance. I’m incapable of absorbing nutrients as well as I did prior to the surgery which could have a long term impact on my health. I was hospitalized with Norovirus which was likely picked up because I likely ate food that someone who didn’t wash their hands properly had prepared. This caused extreme dehydration and my kidneys even shut down so they don’t work as well as they used to now. I had a blood clot in my leg (deep vein thrombosis aka DVT). I have to sleep with “life support” – a CPAP machine – due to central sleep apnea which causes my brain to forget to tell my lungs to keep breathing, and so on and so forth. No matter what you do you are likely going to have problems as you get older.

You will also likely consider shaving your ears but that’s a topic best left for another blog entry.

I strongly suggest that you start moving more as soon as possible. Obviously, consult with your medical care team (and if you’re older you probably have a team of doctors) before beginning any new exercise program. However, I have often said that the moment you stop moving is the moment you become old. It’s as simple as that.

The thing to remember, no matter how tough aging can be, is that we are among the lucky ones. Many people haven’t made it to our age (whatever that may be). Each day is a blessing and we should make the most of every single one. None of us knows how long we have on this Earth, but with a little self-care the chances of those remaining days and years being enjoyable increase considerably.

As the saying goes, old age isn’t for the timid. They also say only the good die young. So do yourself a favor and give your bad self some exercise!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Addams Family vs Munsters: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

The recent news that Rob Zombie will be directing a “reboot” of The Munsters for NBC’s Peacock streaming service and/or theatrical release (which by the way is either the best news ever or the worst – I don’t think there’s much middle ground here) is certain to revive a debate that is as old as time…or at least as old as 1964. Which show was better – The Addams Family or The Munsters?

For those who aren’t old enough to remember, it is important to know that television in the sixties was a golden time for anyone who liked variety in their life. On any given night you might be able to watch a show with an uncle who was a Martian, a suburban housewife who was a witch, an astronaut who had his own personal genie, seven stranded castaways, superheroes, voyages to the bottom of the sea, visit millionaire hillbillies, enjoy rural life, sing with partridges, leave everything to Theodore, or even take a five year mission into deep space (just don’t get lost out there).

You could even watch shows featuring typical American families. Families with a couple of children, household pets, and even an elderly relative or two living in the same house. Two of these shows in particular had an enduring impact upon popular culture. Both first aired within a week of one another and, two years later, both were canceled at the same time as well. Both have had movies, spin-offs, cartoons, and merchandise galore. These shows have always been linked in some mysterious way and have been the subject of much debate and most people fell into one of two camps: you were either an Addams Family Fan or a Munsters Maniac. Much like politics today there was no middle ground when it came to Munsters vs Addams Family. You could like one show but not the other. Long before anyone wondered who shot a Texas oil baron, this was the debate which tore playgrounds, bars, and perhaps even a few families apart.

Both of these shows have superficial similarities. They both feature families most audiences then would consider to be unusual if not downright macabre. Both families lived in spooky houses, kept odd hours, and so on. Both families had strong parental figures who were not necessarily tied to the social stereotypes of the day. Both shows left us with mysteries to ponder – did Morticia have feet? If Grampa was Lily’s father why did everyone call him Grampa Munster? Both shows even had snappy and memorable theme songs!

But underneath each show represented a different version of the American dream.

The Munsters, in case you don’t know, are a family of “monsters” who immigrated to the United States. Grampa, who by the way is a Dracula but not the Dracula, often speaks longingly of the “old country.” Herman was assembled in a lab in Germany (at the University of Heidelberg) and lived in the United Kingdom and Transylvania before immigrating with his Transylvanian wife and father-in-law to the United States. Along with their niece, Marilyn (apparently adopted), and son, Eddie, they do their best to live out the American dream. Herman is clearly a blue-collar working man, he’s a grave digger by trade, and as a group they work hard to fit into their community by participating in civic events and attempting to know their neighbors. But like immigrant groups before them they are often shunned because of their “odd” lifestyle, customs, and appearance. Even those people who don’t scream and run away at first sight of them display a certain nervousness while around any member of the family. Except for Marilyn, the “normal” one to the audience but who is considered an unfortunate freak by the rest of the family. Oddly enough, none of the rest of the family seems to notice that they are the ones who look and act differently than everyone around them. They consider slim, blonde, and presumably blue-eyed (the show was filmed in black and white) to be ugly. But she looks like the rest of the world around them.

I think a case can be made that the Munsters are not only immigrants but that they can stand in for any minority group in the United States at the time. What they experienced, though exaggerated for comic effect in some cases and sanitized for television audiences, echoed to a small degree what many Black, Asian, LatinX, and other groups who looked or acted “different” might have experienced as unwelcome newcomers to a neighborhood.

The Addams Family, by contrast, are wealthy people from a wealthy family. They even have a butler – who is either a zombie or a Frankenstein like creation, I’m not sure – and all the trappings of wealth. Their theme song describes there house a “museum” presumably because of the rare artworks and antiques inside. Patriarch Gomez appears to be Spanish American (not Latino as we define it today), but seems to be native to the USA. Matriarch Morticia can trace her family tree back to the Salem Witch Trials. Unlike the Munsters, they do not worry about fitting in. They have money and know how to use it. Though they do seem to be civic minded, they tend to stick to the comforts of their home. The world is forced to come to them. They do what they please and don’t worry what others think of them. Like the Munsters they don’t always understand the reactions of people around them but they are in a position to not really care about it. In fact, Gomez often solves problems by literally throwing money at them! Wealth has it’s privileges and Gomez at least seems to be very aware of this.

Even though I’m a dyed-in-the-wolf’s bane Munster Maniac I do have to admit that over the years since the original television shows The Addams Family has been the more financially successful franchise. With several major motion pictures having been released, one (animated) as recently as 2019, and even Broadway musical. Though, as one of my theater friends pointed out to me, the play does have a plot more suited to The Munsters than to The Addams Family.

Prior to the news of this latest reboot The Munsters have had a handful of television specials over the decades and one poorly executed syndicated show (The Munsters today) which somehow actually stayed on the air for three seasons and ended up with 3 more episodes than the original show. However, the theme song from The Munsters is still popular with just about every indie rock band out there and was even sampled by Fallout Boy in 2015 (Dance Like Uma Thurman).

But back to my original reason for this post, can’t we all just get along? I personally think that there is room for both families in everyone’s heart and minds. In fact, I am actually a little concerned that as time goes on some of the uniqueness of each franchise is becoming eroded and I hope that both can get back to basics.

For example: in addition to the above mentioned plot of the Addams Family musical being better suited to the Munsters, the most recent film has a scene were the Addams Family is chased out of their “old country” which again is more suited to the Munsters characters. Granted, since The Addams Family is actually based on a popular series of single panel comics by Charles Addams, there is no reason to think that the entire Addams Family franchise should be limited to the television show’s canon. But even in the comics there was never a suggestion, to my knowledge at least, that the Addams family were first generation immigrants.

For the Munsters, I think that the problem of the various sequels and reboot attempts is that they focused on the slapstick comedy and not on the family and community relationships. With the exception of 1313 Mockingbird Lane. A version which I think actually did a nice job of focusing on family but strayed too far from the premise that the Munsters were trying to fit in. Plus, Herman was not made by Grampa – he is very clearly a later creation of Dr. Frankenstein’s. After all, the origins of the Munsters was based on Universal Studios wanting to take advantage of the classic monster properties already in their portfolio.

So, to sum up, I think that as long as both franchises stay true to their original character and perhaps expand on what makes each one unique that there is room for both in our lives. In fact, if treated properly, I think that both of these families can even teach us all how to be a little better in our own lives as well.

What do you think? I’d love to see your thoughts and comments.

And before anyone panics, here’s the missing Uncle Fester from the header image above.

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Life in the Drive Thru Lane

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Despite my interest in health and fitness, my lifestyle (if you can call how I live a “style”) has led me to spend much more time going through “drive-thrus” to get my meals. I’ve been in them at all meal times, late nights, and just in the middle of the day. So, naturally, I consider myself an expert on what to expect at a drive-thru and I have definite opinions on who does them best – or worst!

By the way, before we get started, I feel obligated to point out that you should never eat and drive at the same time. Especially in heavy city traffic. I know we all do, but that doesn’t make it right.

That being said, here are my top hints and some rules of etiquette when ordering at the drive-thru:

  • If you do choose to eat and drive carefully consider what you are ordering. Some sandwiches are sloppier than others.
  • Know what you want to order before you enter the drive-thru lane! Others are waiting behind you.
  • Stay close to the vehicle in front of you. There’s no need to maintain a car length or more between you and the vehicle ahead. A yard (meter)or so will suffice.
  • Pay attention and move carefully forward when it is your turn to do so. This isn’t the time to check your messages, texts, Facebook, etc.
  • Speak loudly and clearly into the speaker. Between ambient background noise and other factors it’s easy to be misunderstood.
  • Always ask for napkins. These are the most often neglected item included in your bag. Almost any sandwich, especially burgers and chicken, will drip some juices or condiments. Not to mention that the greaseless french fry hasn’t been invented yet.
  • No one seems to just toss in condiments like ketchup (catsup) anymore. Remember to ask for these, too.
  • Most chains accept debit/credit cards now. Consider using one instead of cash. Otherwise, use your time in line to prepare your form of payment.
  • Always check your order before you pull away from the window. This is the point where it’s okay to take a few extra seconds – don’t feel pressured to move until you know that everything is correct. There’s nothing worse than getting a couple miles down the road and finding out that something was forgotten or worse you actually got someone else’s food.

So, in no particular order, my observations…

McDonald’s: according to Wikipedia the ubiquitous hamburger chain did not install its first drive-thru window until 1975. But today these windows account for 70% of sales (pre-pandemic). In many ways McDonald’s seems to be one of the main drivers of innovation with the drive-thru window. Going from that single window in 1975 to multi-lane, multi-window ordering systems today. Based on my observations they are also the leaders in digital signage which I’m sure has greatly enhanced their ability to make changes on the fly for out of stock items, specials and saves the time of someone going out to change the sign two or more times a day for different menus. I also appreciate that your order displays on the screen so you at least know that everything was entered into their POS properly. In general, service at McDonald’s drive-thru’s is pretty good and quick. They do miss the mark on occasion, most often on soft drink orders. I have not found the best way to order a Diet Coke and always get a Diet Coke. Maybe they can’t grasp the idea that a guy who is ordering a double-quarter pounder with cheese and large fries really wants a Diet Coke – but it is my drink of choice. I also find it ironic that their simplified menu during the pandemic actually seems to cause more confusion among their staff. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and order a “2b” and see what happens. I bet you get asked to repeat the order or clarify what you want. Hint: Big Macs, though delicious, are sloppy to try and eat while driving.

Burger King: Oddly enough, at least in my region, Burger King installed drive-thru windows and when they needed a second window they built a little booth that a cashier would be posted in which is separate from the main building. Now this building is almost closed all the time and even when the second window (though technically I guess it’s the first window) is built into the restaurant it is usually closed. Hint: Whoppers, like the Big Mac, are often sloppy to try and eat in the car. The juices from the tomato mixes with the ketchup and the mayo and just drips everywhere.

Wendy’s: To my memory Wendy’s is the first Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) to use the drive-thru lane, or pick-up window as they call it, on a regular basis. So you would think that as early adopters of the practice that they would be the best at it. In general I think their performance is average. Somehow their fries always seem to come out a bit “soggy” from the pick-up window. Maybe they do from the counter too, but it’s been so long since I’ve gone inside, I just can’t remember. Hint: to try and limit the sloppiness of the Wendy’s hamburger order without the tomato. Not as good but less messy (see the Whopper above).

Photo by Caleb Oquendo on Pexels.com

Chick-Fil-A: Here’s the chain that has really adapted to the pandemic – at least in my area. They’ve turned the drive-thru into an entire outdoor operation. You are greeted by an over-friendly staff member, equipped with a computer tablet, who takes your order, confirms your order, and takes your payment. They often also tell you which car you are following in line. You are given a receipt at the next stop if you want one and then given your food at the end of the line. Orders are almost always correct (they do give me the occasional incorrect salad dressing) and they smile a lot. They do provide great service which partly explains their cult like following. Hint: their grilled chicken sandwiches tend to be the sloppiest. There’s no breading to soak of the juices.

Dunkin’ and Tim Horton’s: I think it’s a little difficult to order a doughnut when you can’t see what’s on the rack. But if you want a doughnut bad enough you find a way. I suppose some people order sandwiches and coffee at these two chains, too…weird.

Subway: Takes a little while to order because of the variety of options, but they seem to get my order right every time. Hint: loading your sub up with all the veggies may be “healthier,” but it makes it harder to eat.

Jimmy John’s: Not quite as “freaky fast” as advertised, but close.

Taco Bell: sorry Jimmy John’s, these guys are usually freaky fast in my experience. Hint: I find the Crunchwrap Supreme to be the least messy of their food choices.

Culver’s: Takes longer than most, but they also put a little hang tag on your car door handle so that you are properly identified when they bring out your order. Sometimes the simple ideas really work.

Steak & Shake: Avoid using the drive-thru. I know this sounds harsh and please don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the food at Steak & Shake, especially the shakes, but I have yet to spend less than a half an hour in one of their drive-thru lanes. Usually, it’s a longer wait. I don’t know what it is about their production line, or maybe they just see me coming, but they can’t seem to get food out fast enough. Please don’t tell me it’s because their “steak” burgers are made fresh – Wendy’s uses a fresh hamburger patty which is larger and seems to be able to get the food out in a reasonable amount of time. Maybe it’s because the shakes are made one at a time by hand. I don’t know, but I suspect it’s more of a staffing issue.

KFC: I’ll admit it, I don’t go through the KFC drive-thru often as I usually order from the counter when picking up a bucket of the Colonel’s original goodness. Hint: fried chicken doesn’t mix with driving, licking your fingers while driving can be distracting. They have a sandwich now so consider choosing that if you can’t stop to partake.

Checker’s/Rally’s : two entirely separate pick up lanes! Order from the driver’s side or the passenger side. How cool is that? Hint: the Big Buford, love the name, is the sloppiest burger on the menu.

Sonic: not sure why anyone would use the drive-thru lane at a restaurant built around the drive-in experience though they are one of the few chains with potato “tots.” But I’ve tried it. Average service and time.

Arby’s: Average service and time but, you guessed it, hint: avoid the gyro when driving. Very, very sloppy.

A&W, Carl’s Jr., Dairy Queen, Del Taco, Hardee’s, Jack-in-the-Box, In ‘N Out, Popeye’s, Whataburger, White Castle: I probably shouldn’t lump all these chains together, but in my experience these are the “journeymen” of fast food. Not too slow, but not very fast either. The orders are usually correct but the entire experience is what you would expect. Which isn’t bad. I will give a shout out to Whataburger’s fried lemon pie though. Worth the stop if you are in Texas.

I already shared my tips on how we as customers can have a better drive-thru experience, so let me close with my ideas on how the restaurant can improve customer service. Basically it boils down to three things:

Accuracy: especially important for venues with complicated menus. If you allow customization of your toppings (and everyone should) or even if you only have a choice between cheese or no cheese repeat the order back to the customer after they have completed it. Ideally, at the speaker and at the window(s).

Speed: difficult in these COVID times when drive-thru may be your only business and the line stretches out to the road. But if you have items that take 15 or more minutes to prepare your operation may not be cut out for the fast (food) lane. Re-examine your production or simplify your menu. Yes, your customers may miss a favorite item but they’ll appreciate the quick service (as in quick service restaurant) more.

Courtesy: I know that this is a challenge for everyone and I don’t know the answer to incentivizing staff to say “please and thank you” instead of “here you go” or worse yet, silence as the paper bag is being shoved out the window. But I can tell you that people go absolutely bonkers over the fact that the staff at Chik-Fil-A say “my pleasure.” To me that’s an indication that everyone else is getting it wrong.

So there you have it, my overall impressions from a lifetime of drive-thru living. Do you agree with my assessments or have I really missed the mark on some of these? I’d love to read your comments.

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

Journeys with Dave Goes Hollywood…or YouTube to be More Specific

In lieu of a blog post this week I’m trying something different – a YouTube video! It’s on my new channel and is a pretty basic attempt to record a walk on a short hiking trail near my home. I’m hoping that they become more interesting as I become more proficient in editing and such with the goal of adding a new visual element to my Journeys as things open up once we are post-COVID.

The video is located here and last a little over 10 minutes. For those interested, it was filmed on a Galaxy S10 and edited with MS Photos. So nothing fancy. But hey, I’m just starting out.

I’ve learned a lot on this one video. For example: did you know it takes an incredible amount of time to load a video up to YouTube? Nearly 2 hours for a 10 minute adventure. I can’t imagine how long my video of my upcoming trip to Egypt will take.

Oh yeah, did I tell you I’m going to Egypt in the fall? Now that will be an adventure and a journey.

Onward!

This tree didn’t make the video – but it should have!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr