Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You had a dream. A dream that, after all we have been through these last few years, I would still love to see realized. And that’s regardless of how much damage has been caused around the world, let alone in America. Paranoia is getting worse and worse, and ignorance continues to be utter bliss for those in power.

Where is the America you dreamed of? Why does it always seem so far, far away? Your vision is one which needs to be embraced, and yet the world seems to keep descending into an endless abyss which it looks unlikely to escape from. Yet we celebrate your life because you had a dream and none of us, however depressed and demoralized we get, are ever willing to let it die.

You were willing to live and die for what you believed in, and this is the kind of bravery we sure could use today. We have been scared to speak our minds of the truth we are trapped in, and when we do speak it we are not heard by those in charge. People are still judged by the color of their skin even when we try to convince ourselves this should never be the case. The powerful voices of truth keep getting muffled by the powers that be, and it usually takes some illegal activity to get to the facts, facts which are now more malleable and less permanent than ever before.

Where is your dream, Dr. King? I guess that’s what I want to write about. I want to believe it is still possible that we can all be free at last. I just don’t know. The world keeps getting scarier and scarier, and I keep hiding away from it all. It gets to be too much sometimes, but it never did scare you, did it? So, who am I to complain?

Whatever happens and whatever befalls us, you will never be forgotten. Thanks Dr. King, and not just for the day off from work (that’s a coincidence more than anything else). Thanks for being a brave voice in a scary world which you refused to be intimidated by. Thanks for your dream which will never die. Ever. Thanks for remembering the most important of things, that we need to work together even when life seems to be bringing us all down.

Happy Birthday Dr. King. May your dreams be realized.

Above image courtesy of Getty Images.

Seven Marathons For One Benjamin

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It’s that time of year again! The time where I get up at an ungodly hour on Saturday morning, put on my running shoes, venture out to Griffith Park in Burbank and not get into any car accidents (none of which would ever be my fault) along the way, and arrive to join up with veteran and newbie runners for another season of training for the Los Angeles Marathon. And as always, I will be training with the great people of Team to End AIDS, a training program and fundraising group which benefits AIDS Project Los Angeles.

And in addition to putting on my running shoes, I will be wearing clothes as well.

For those new to my Los Angeles Marathon exploits, this marks the seventh year in a row of me training for it with T2EA. Yes, you read it right, SEVEN YEARS. After running the last one, I began to wonder if it was time to take a break as the last one was more of a struggle than ever before. Despite it being a tiny bit cooler than 2015 and with a nice breeze to aid us, the 2016 LA Marathon had me wondering why I allowed myself to listen to the coaches and not take any Tylenol during it. As I made my way up and down San Vicente Boulevard, I had to stop and get into a crouching position because my legs could not take much more abuse. As for my knees, they gave up arguing with me during year three.

Each year I have trained for the LA Marathon, I found myself doing it for different reasons be it emotional, physical or weight related. Among my goals for LA 2017 is to continue with my weight loss as I joined Weight Watchers a few months back, and I would like to be rid of my spare tire which is my belly once and for all. Also, I want to improve on my time from my last marathon which, in retrospect, was pitiful. I don’t want to say the 2016 LA Marathon was a disappointment, but it was in a sense because it felt like I dragged my ass to the finish line instead of crossing it triumphantly. I did finish the marathon, but I came out of it feeling like things could have gone much better.

But the main reason which finally got me to sign up for another season of marathon training is this is T2EA’s last marathon training season ever. With their fundraising focus now shifting to other areas, they have decided to discontinue this program following the 2017 LA Marathon. As a result, missing out on this particular season would be, as Arnold Schwarzenegger would say, a “BIG MISTAKE.” Unsurprisingly, this first day of training proved to be bittersweet, but it will be quite the adventure all the same.

And once again, I will be raising $1,100 for APLA, and I encourage you, my fellow readers, to donate a few bucks to help me reach my fundraising goal. Please click here to find out how you can make a TAX-DEDUCTIBLE donation.

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While JC is back and still hating pickles, he has stepped down as the marathon coach and has passed the baton to a new coach, James Hawthorn. He is a 17-time marathon runner, and he has finished the Boston Marathon in under three hours. Learning of this makes him seem rather intimidating, but he assured us he wasn’t expecting anyone to run LA as fast as he ran Boston.

Kerry, T2EA’s Director of Endurance Events, told us they were changing things up this season as he found everyone was getting a little lazy with training these past few years to where we developed bad habits like arriving at Griffith Park late. I myself got to Griffith Park this morning at a quarter to 7 a.m. which is when we start. Have I ever arrived late in the past? I don’t have to answer that.

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Coach James started us off with a crouching stretch which served to loosen everyone up, and he told us to make sure we lead with our butts and not our knees as we pretended to sit down in an imaginary chair. I did lead with my butt, by my knees wanted in as they wanted some kind of feeling for themselves. The way my knees see it, why should my butt have all the fun?

Today’s run gave us two options: we could run 5 miles or 3. When it comes to these choices, my gut usually tells me to run the longer distance. C’mon, I have run the Los Angeles Marathon six years in a row. I’ve got this training thing down. 5 miles is a piece of cake to me! So yes, I only ran 3.

The truth is I haven’t kept up with the running since the 2016 LA Marathon, so once again I feel like I’m starting over because, well, I am. As I ran from Griffith Park to the Gene Autry Museum, which is 1.5 miles, my legs felt like concrete bricks which I dragged over the asphalt. I used to run like I was light on my feet, but I haven’t been svelte in such a long time. But the good news is I did use Runkeeper to keep track of my time, and I finished the 3 miles in forty minutes.

In past years I have run in the 13-minute pace group, but today I ended up in the 15-minute group. It feels like I’ve been downgraded, but then again I haven’t run on a regular basis in some time. Still, as my fellow veteran marathoners pointed out, it gives me something to work for. As the training season progresses, I can always move up to a faster pace group if I put in the effort. This is only the beginning, and I have nowhere to go but up.

Coach James concluded our first day by conducting a stretching clinic. It involved stretches I am not altogether familiar with, so I hope I did them correctly. If I didn’t do them correctly, I still hope some part of my body got stretched out (and not just my knees).

Despite whatever problems arose, this training season has gotten off to a strong start. The weather was perfect in that it was not too hot and not too cold, and we have yet to feel the full force of the fall and winter seasons (assuming they will ever arrive in Southern California). And when all is said and done, Scott Boliver’s tree continues to grow beautifully in Griffith Park.

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HELP A BROTHER OUT: Like I said, I am doing this marathon to raise money for AIDS Project Los Angeles, a renowned non-profit group which has spent many years helping those who have been afflicted by this terrible disease we will one day conquer. I invite you all to make a tax-deductible donation to this group so that they can continue to help those who can no longer help themselves. Just click here to find out how you can help. By the way, check out the video below.

 

Two Days Before September 11, 2001…

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As much as I want to talk about what I was doing on September 10, 2001, I can’t remember the specifics of that particular day. Back then I was more consistent in keeping a diary of what I did from day to day, but September 10th was a day I never got to write about. So instead, allow me to go back two days before those planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11th

Back in 2001, I was working at Disneyland in an attraction called Innoventions. It was in the spinning building located in Tomorrowland where America Sings and Carousel of Progress used to be. That particular attraction was about technology of the future, but others described it dismissively as a corporate playground, and I was an interactive host doing game shows and helping guests have the best day possible at “the happiest place on Earth.” (Writer’s note: Innoventions finally closed down on March 31, 2015.)

Anyway, this particular day stood out because, right after the park closed, cast members, Disney lingo for employees, were invited to catch the very last performances of the Country Bear Jamboree attraction, the famous audio-animatronic show with bears and the mounted heads of dead animals singing country music. This one was close to reaching its 30th anniversary, and while Walt Disney never got to see it come to fruition, he really loved the characters who were part of it.

Country Bear Jamboree was being closed down to make room for a new attraction which seemed sacrilegious to those who worked at the park, but change was in the air and we couldn’t stop it. Some said what would replace it would be one-part Circle-Vision, that 360-degree theater in Tomorrowland which had railings for guests to hold on to instead of seats as they were made to feel like they were moving along with the images shown onscreen. Others said the other part would be “Captain Eo,” the sci-fi 3D short film directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Michael Jackson.

Now when I was working at Disneyland, “Captain Eo” had not been shown there for years, but guests were still constantly asking us where they could see it. We all figured all the guests would know the movie was no longer showing at the park, but no one is quick to look at the map to see what is and what isn’t there. Sadly, it would take Jackson’s death to bring it back to Tomorrowland in all its technologically dated glory.

While I was never a big fan of the Country Bear Jamboree, I felt obligated to attend its final performances. At the very least it gave me the unique privilege of allowing me to say I attended the last show, something millions of visitors would never get to lay claim to. It was like when the dorm I stayed in during college got a zero score on the first week of back to school contests. No else got a score as low as ours, and we wore this fact with pride as only we could lay claim to having accomplished that.

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After all these years, the bear I remembered most was Teddi Barra who descended from the ceiling on a swing decorated with roses and wearing a yellow raincoat. This soon made perfect sense as she began to sing “Singin’ in the Rain.” Many will want the starring role in a production, but it’s always the supporting players who command the most attention. Trust me, I speak from experience.

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Also, the mounted heads of animals on the wall left a vivid impression on me. These were animals shot for sport, and yet they still sang with a lot of heart and spirit despite the fact they were now forever nailed to a wall. And keep in mind, Walt Disney also made “Bambi,” and we know what happened to the title character’s mother. Why didn’t they have Bambi’s mother’s head up there? I’d like to think it would have made a difference for all the children forever traumatized by the movie.

Many in attendance were wearing “Save The Country Bears” t-shirts which, while well-intentioned, proved to be utterly pointless as the decision to close the attraction down was made a long time in advance. Still seeing this attraction being closed down felt very sad because a part of Walt Disney’s spirit which brought about this park’s creation seemed to be going away with it. But change keeps coming for better or worse, and Disneyland would never have survived without the corporate world backing it up.

When the final performance came to a close, the cast members operating the attraction asked if we wanted to see it one more time. Of course, we said yes as it was not lost on any of us how we were a part of something many others would never get to experience. Seeing it for a final time made us feel lucky and special, and when it was all over we gave the attraction a long lasting and an ear-splittingly loud standing ovation. I personally felt privileged to be a part of this because many other jobs never would have allowed for such an opportunity like this.

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There are those cast members who say Walt is spinning in his grave with all the changes being made to his land of imagination. We still wonder how much of him is left in the park, and I’m not just referring to those urban legends like the one which says he’s buried underneath it or cryogenically frozen. I had the great opportunity of working with cast members who truly want to preserve the magic Walt brought to the park as it seems the damage Michael Eisner left in his path feels irreparable.

In retrospect, the closing of the Country Bear Jamboree served as an accidental allegory for the change which forever changed us in the wake of September 11th. Back then, I felt so lucky to be catching the bears’ unfortunate end when so many others couldn’t, and at least we had to chance to say goodbye to something or somebody. How ironic it was that a couple of days later we said a horrific and unexpected goodbye to the twin towers and many innocent lives in a way we didn’t see coming. It proved to be a time where we wanted to change the course of events, but of course we could not. The world can be very cruel, and 15 years have now passed since we were greeted with the worst terrorist attack in American history. Here’s hoping we continue to learn from the events of September 11th to where we can finally keep history from repeating itself.

Writer’s note: The Country Bear Jamboree attraction was eventually turned into the Winnie the Pooh ride. Truth be told, I am a die-hard Eeyore fan, so I have to admit I was really excited at what it would look like. It proved to be fun, but there could have been a lot more of Eeyore featured in it, a lot more.