A Pablove Run in the Midst of Devastating California Wildfires

California wildfire

It has been a terrible week for Southern California. Last Wednesday, a lone gunman carried out a mass shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, a city I lived in for five years, which left 12 people dead. But as the city mourns a terrible tragedy, it is now being endangered along with a number of surrounding areas by a horrific wildfire which has now left acres upon acres in ashes. The fire has hit close to us as well as Griffith Park is being threatened by the same wildfires to where parts of it have been down, and animals from the LA Zoo had to be evacuated. As a result, us Pablove runners saw our Saturday run cancelled, but we were encouraged to do the run on our own.

This week’s run was five miles for full-marathoners, and two miles for those doing a half marathon. I am still committed to running the full marathon, so five miles it was. After sleeping in for a change, I did my run in my neighborhood which is in the mid-Wilshire area right near Museum Row. I usually do my maintenance runs on 6th Street all the way to San Vicente Boulevard and then turn back, but with this run I decided to take things in a different direction.

IMG_20181110_102600697_HDR

As I stepped outside my apartment, I found it was a warm sunny day in November. Just when I thought the warm weather would finally depart Southern California, I was reminded of how climate change is not a hoax. The sun was bearing down on me as if I were an extra in “Lawrence of Arabia,” and this combined with the inevitability of me running on concrete instead of asphalt made it clear this run would be tougher on my joints than usual. I had my interval timer watch on my wrist, and I was all set to go and determined to be a self-starter. Nothing would stop me… except for the fact I forgot to put on my water belt. I should have known better. There is no excuse for me to go out for a run without bottles filled with grape-flavored generic Pedialyte and water containing electrolytes. Why I initially left my apartment without these necessary tools is something scientists are currently looking into.

IMG_20181110_112546861_HDR

I decided to head down Cochran Avenue towards Washington Boulevard as it would provide me with an uneven course which had hills to run up and down. That’s right, I gave myself hills to run over! In past training seasons, none of my fellow runners ever looked forward to running up any hill put in their path, but hills are part of the Los Angeles Marathon, so we have no business avoiding them.

One thing I was reminded of as I ran the streets of Los Angeles was how we are often greeted with inescapable distractions while running through Griffith Park, Burbank, Glendale and other parts of North Hollywood. There are all those fast food restaurants like Carl’s Jr. which had posters on its windows of the most luscious double cheeseburgers, and they made their fast food meals something you couldn’t wait to sink your teeth into. Of course, once we enter any fast food establishment, we are greeted with a reality we did no ask for as the meals are never as appealing as we imagined. We end up feeling like Michael Douglas in “Falling Down” when he gets his burger and says, “Can anybody tell me what’s wrong with this picture?”

IMG_20181110_111219142

Instead, I was greeted with such distractions like yard sales where I could buy things for an unbelievably low price, or by signs for “A Bronx Tale” musical which was based on the play by Chaz Palminteri which was in turn adapted into the fabulous motion picture directed by Robert De Niro. None of these things made me hungry, but they informed me of opportunities I just might be missing out on.

Last week, I ran at a pace of 3:1, but this time I ran at a pace of 2:2 after having done so in a maintenance run during the week. Since I came out of that run in one piece, I was confident I would do the same here despite the hot and dry weather. Surprisingly, I did quite well. I owe some thanks to the female voice on the Runkeeper app. When I did my maintenance run, the word she said which stood out most was “steady.” She never said “run,” “light speed” or even “ludicrous speed,” just “steady.” By staying “steady,” I got through this run without ever feeling winded. This training season is clearly getting off to a good start.

IMG_20181110_113147971_HDR

One thing I was reminded of from previous training seasons is how excited dogs would get whenever we ran pass them in residential neighborhoods. It’s as if they were saying, “Hey! Wait up! We wanna run too!” In the neighborhood I live in, there are also plenty of dogs being walked around town or staring at passing humans behind gates or fences, but these ones are a little more territorial. Some were interested in running, but others were far more intent on protecting their owners’ homes. One big dog growled at me to where the “Beware of Dog” sign really wasn’t necessary. Another one came out of nowhere, and I jumped as it barked loudly at me as if to say, “GET OUT OF HERE! THIS IS MY OWNER’S HOUSE! YOU DON’T PAY RENT HERE!” I started to feel like Chevy Chase in “Fletch” when he was chased by that Doberman Pincher, but I did stay steady and didn’t go into warp speed.

IMG_20181110_110031780

When I got to Washington Boulevard, the sun was bearing down hard but I was determined not to be turned into a human shish kabob. I even dared myself to run on the side of the street which had no shade. When I turned around and ran on the other side, I asked myself why I didn’t appreciate shade enough to run in it. What was I thinking?

IMG_20181110_111441362_HDR

There wasn’t an alert on my phone to tell me I had reached the halfway point, so it occurred to me to take a look at it as I got closer and closer to Fairfax Avenue. When I did, it showed I had already run 2.55 miles. It would have been nice to be informed of this sooner, but anyway. I ran back the same way I came, and this time I kept my distance from the dogs. Regardless, they remembered exactly who I was and didn’t hesitate to bark at me from a distance. Excuse me for existing!

And then there were those yard sales which I did slow down by, thinking there might be a CD or a DVD worth purchasing. But knowing the weather was going to get hotter and the air quality wasn’t getting any better, I just went on by. When I arrived back at my apartment, Runkeeper made it official that I had ran 5.07 miles, and I did it all by my lonesome… Well, last season I did most of the runs by my lonesome, so this isn’t anything new.

IMG_7856

After all these years of marathon training, the one rule I have never forgotten is, when running, to land on the balls of my feet. You never land on the heel as the odds of getting injured will be far greater. This is one of the many reasons why I still get to train for the Los Angeles Marathon, and for the ninth year in a row.

Ben after a run

FUNDRAISING ALERT: Now this may not be the best time to ask for donations as we are all eager to help those suffering from the wildfires wreaking havoc all over California, but if you have any extra change, please consider making a donation to The Pablove Foundation. While millions of dollars are given to cancer research every year, only a very tiny portion goes towards a cure for pediatric cancer. Please click here to learn how you can help.

 

Advertisements

The Founder

the-founder-movie-poster

Watching Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the man who acquired McDonald’s and turned it into a billion-dollar franchise in “The Founder,” reminded me of his role as Hunt Stevenson in “Gung Ho.” Granted, there’s a number of fast-talking characters from Keaton’s long resume which could have come to mind, but “Gung Ho” proved to be one of my favorite Ron Howard films. Like Hunt, Ray is eager to convince everyone around him he knows what’s best for everyone, but while Hunt’s efforts are altruistic, Ray’s speak more to the kind of capitalism which is very unrestrained. Either way, you know you have the right actor portraying someone eager to get things his own way or no way at all.

“The Founder” is, yes, “based on a true story,” but we don’t even need to be told this because it is far too easy to invent a character like Ray Kroc these days. The movie opens up in the 1950’s when Ray, a salesman from Illinois, is trying to sell milkshake mixers to drive-in diners and failing to do so. While his face is filled with confidence, his mind is being subjected to countless scores of rejections as failure haunts him at every corner. As we watch Ray alone in his motel room, listening to a self-esteem record where a narrator talks about the importance of confidence, we see him desperate to outrun failure as he is now in his 50’s, a time where most men hang it up and enter retirement (back in that decade anyway).

Then one day, Ray comes across a little hamburger stand out in San Bernardino, California called McDonald’s. Immediately, he is stunned and amazed by the speedy system its owners have come up with which produces high quality food in a very short period of time. Upon taking the brothers who own the restaurant, Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman), out to dinner, he soon offers to turn their restaurant into a bona fide franchise. From there, we know it’s going to be an interesting ride, albeit one filled with countless speed bumps and strong disagreements.

Now it would have been far too easy for the filmmakers to vilify Ray Kroc as he essentially stole the McDonald brothers’ business right out from under them, but director John Lee Hancock and screenwriter Robert Siegel have more on their minds than reducing this man to a mere villain. From the start, we see the desperation on Ray’s face as he is at the age where most men retire, but he still sees the potential of success waiting for him regardless of how many road blocks get put up in his path. His fear of failure becomes the driving force behind his business decisions, and while it eventually reveals him to be ruthless in his quest for dominance, we can certainly understand where the drive comes from.

The role of Ray was made for Keaton, and it’s impossible to think of another actor who could have played this businessman as effectively as the “Birdman” actor does here. It fits perfectly into his talents as a fast talker and as someone who can convince you he is on your side even when the character he plays is not. As portrayed here, Ray is a complex character whose motivations are controlled by desperation and fear of failure, and Keaton nails every complexity perfectly to where we are completely sucked into Ray’s realm of business dealing even as Ray begins to take credit for things he did not create.

I also admired the portrayal of the McDonald brothers as they are shown to be decent Americans who struggled with failure themselves until they found success with their little hamburger stand. It should be noted that the brothers were never uninterested in turning McDonald’s into a franchise (early attempts to do so did not work out for them), but were instead interested in a form of capitalism which allowed them firm control over the quality of food and service at each restaurant to where they could make a healthy profit and live comfortably without trying to overrun their competition.

It also helps that “The Founder” has two terrific actors portraying Mac and Dick McDonald in John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman. Lynch, in particular, has one incredible scene which involves him going into a five-page monologue where he vividly describes how the first McDonald’s restaurant came into existence. It’s an exhilarating moment to watch as the creation of this now globally dominant fast food chain reminds us of the greatness of America as it is a country where just about anyone can succeed in business if they try really hard enough and are persistent as well.

Laura Dern also shows up as Ray’s long-suffering wife, Ethel. Now this could have been a thankless role as we mostly see Ethel staying back at home while Ray is on the road trying to make a sale, but Dern makes the most of it as she shows how Ethel represents the kind of life anyone else would be satisfied with. Dern never portrays Ethel as a constant whiner, but instead as a sympathetic person who struggles to support and understand her husband, a man whose appetites extend far beyond the dining room table and evenings out at local social events.

There’s also strong support on hand from actors like Patrick Wilson, B.J. Novak, Ric Reitz, Justin Randell Brooke and Wilbur Fitzgerald who play characters that come to inform Ray’s business interests, interests which soon evolve into infinitely greedy ones. Another great stand out is Linda Cardellini as Joan Smith, the woman who would eventually become Ray’s second wife. Cardellini is fantastic as she sees in Ray a strong ambition which she wants to help advance, and she proves to have a strong chemistry with Keaton right from the first moment he spots her playing the piano.

Most of Hancock’s movies, “The Blind Side,” “The Rookie,” “The Alamo” and “Saving Mr. Banks,” have dealt with true-life stories, and like those movies, “The Founder” conveys these stories in a way which feels remarkably down to earth. No one involved in this motion picture gets overwhelmed by the iconography of McDonald’s or the people involved in its making and its dominance, and it makes for a deeply involving cinematic experience. Hancock gets all the period details down perfectly to where we are believably transported back to a time where it seemed unthinkable to eat any meal without the use of silverware.

In some ways, I wished “The Founder” had dug even deeper into its subject matter to where the McDonald brothers were included more in the story, but it is still a compelling motion picture which makes the term “based on a true story” feel like it means something for a change. I also love how it is a movie which cannot be boiled down to one sentence. It deals with many things like the American dream, business, greed and the cost of success to a fascinating degree. But looking back, it is primarily about capitalism and of how it can be both good and bad. And considering how capitalism has become such an unrestrained thing to the detriment of many, it makes this movie all the timelier as it shows where capitalism in its most dominant form was born, and Gordon Gekko isn’t even in it.

“The Founder” ends with footage of the real Ray Kroc as he explains how McDonald’s came into being, but in his own way. Many things can be said about Ray as the final image of him in front of a McDonald’s restaurant leaves us in silence as he clearly claimed something which wasn’t even his to begin with. Then again, would it have become such an enormous enterprise without him? It’s hard to say otherwise.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Click here to read what Michael Keaton, Laura Dern, and John Carroll Lynch have to say about “The Founder.”

Save