Walt Dinda, Tammy and Connor

Walking with Walt

It’s not uncommon to meet people along a trail when you are on a walk.  My theory is that there are almost always interesting people there to meet, if you care to engage. Walkers are not alike but we all understand the benefit of a good long walk.

Colleen and Me

Colleen and Me

Fellow FreeWalker, Colleen Griglock, and I, along with a couple dozen other FreeWalkers and EverWalk members were strolling a drop-dead gorgeous trail on a beautiful Fall day this past Saturday. It was  the last few miles of the FreeWalkers (13.1 half) Marathon Walk on the outskirts of Philadelphia.

The trail we were on has ironically been known as “Forbidden Drive” since the 1920s when automobiles were first banned from this gravel road. Now, it’s a popular wide trail that follows Wissahickon Creek Northwest of the city. It was recently named “Trail of Year 2018” by Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources. And, it’s a most inviting trail to pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians with plenty of room for everyone.

Used to be a busy bridle path

Forbidden Drive

We approached a gentleman walking briskly and confidently with a cane and struck up a conversation. There was something about his smile and energy that belied his years. (Hey, I just joined the Septuagenarian club and and am curious when I sense someone has a secret aging process going.) Walt Dinda is an 83 year-young, long time resident of the area and a regular walker on these trails. I would call him the Ambassador of Forbidden Drive.

Walt Dinda

Walt Dinda, the Ambassador of Forbidden Drive

As an attorney, he and his wife raised a family of 6 children which has now grown to 19 grandkids, with the hope of great-grandkids in the near future. I can relate to all this having 6 grandkids myself and looking forward to the possibilities.

Walt is wearing his Penn State hat he says he “borrowed” from his son. Everyone seems to be connected to Penn State here, including most of his family. As Colleen suggests, most fans make the pilgrimage to Happy Valley (Penn State) this time of year. Maybe, one not so big secret here is Pennsylvanians love their communities.

Walt began telling us about the trail and the area before greetings came from others along the way. It seems Walt has been walking Forbidden Drive for years. He even credits this particular walk for much of the good things in his life.

“Walking this trail has taught me more about life than any classroom or degree I ever got. And I continue to learn from it.”

Walt has met hundreds of people of all types on the trail over the years and he has gotten to know and care about them. Walt’s parents were Eastern European immigrants that came to this country and settled in the area. His father initially had a hard time finding work and his mother worked as a domestic for a wealthy family in Philadelphia. Walt goes on,

“I’m basically a conservative guy, but I have learned to accept and embrace others.”

It appears there are many regulars on the trail that he checks in on, or asks about. They are true trail buddies whose lives revolve around the trail.

Making friends along the way.

One of Walt’s buddies asks about the health of an 87 year old mutual friend.

So, the trail is Walt’s extended family. Add a couple dozen of these trail friends to his already large family and the complexity of relationships in his life is astounding. But, I believe it might be the secret to his longevity, or at least his happiness. Walt goes on to say,

“If only the rest of the world had more caring. Caring like we have with friends and family. Most of the problems of the world could be solved or would not exist if we saw each other as part of a family.”

I think it’s fair to say that Walt had a certain personal chemistry that attracted people to him. Or, maybe there was something about walking this particular trail. But, I was fascinated by his story. After talking to him about careers and kids for 15 minutes or so, his daughter in law and grandson showed up giving each other a great big hug. This is what we all want – love and understanding. Walt has earned it in spades and has reminded me how best to grow old.

Tammy, Connor and Walt

Tammy, Connor and Walt on Forbidden Drive

The John Coltrane House

Visiting Trane

It’s always a special treat when serendipity pays a visit. Even more so when there’s music involved.

Exploring North Philly Neighborhoods

I needed to drive to Philadelphia and get an overnight place to stay this past Friday night. Having had some interesting, and mostly rewarding, experiences using Airbnb.com, I searched for a place near Fairmount Park where most of our FreeWalkers’ Philadelphia Marathon Walk would be taking place early Saturday morning. Using Google Maps and Airbnb reviews, I found a place in Brewerytown, a section of North Philly I knew nothing about.

The Airbnb photos and reviews were good for a simple, private room on N 32nd St. and plenty of parking. Best of all the cost was only $50 for the night! But, reading into the listing and reviews there appeared to be two items to reconcile. What was this section of town like? And, what did the possibility of hearing CSX trains at night mean? No reviewer seemed particularly put out by either.

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Overlooking power plant and tracks, Brewerytown is in the middle city skyline in the background.

Using Google Maps, locating the place was easy and close to the highway. You could see  signs that this was a distressed section of town, but also signs of new building among old industry. As you might have guessed, this section of town had been home to dozens of breweries in the past due to its proximity to the Schuylkill River and the German population. Today only one exists – Crime and Punishment Brewing which I unfortunately did not get a chance to visit.

The neighborhood seemed similar to the gentrification I saw recently in Brooklyn. My place was a small front room of a new townhouse close to the street, clean and sparse with all the amenities available. The owner, Tyler, was a young friendly guy and highly rated by Airbnb.

Part of my interest in any Airbnb stay is to explore the area once I get checked in. You could see that this might be a challenge because its a mixed use area with old and new residential as well as industry and converted loft space. Parts looked cool. Parts looked threatening. Using Google Maps again, I decided to take a walk. Fairmont Park was close by. And, then I saw a map bubble for The John Coltrane House. Whoa, I had no idea he was from Philadelphia but I needed to know more.

Finding John Coltrane’s House

That CSX train’s tracks literally separated Brewerytown from another part of North Philadelphia across Girard Avenue and just a few blocks away on 33rd St. Even though this was adjacent to the park, it was literally “on the other side of the tracks” and looked badly neglected. Still there were signs for and about John Coltrane there, beckoning me to find out more. I continued walking to see what tribute was there to honor the great jazz legend.

JohnColtranesignI walked about a mile to an old section of row houses needing repair and saw the home and a marker outside. It read “The John Coltrane House” which is designated as a national monument. This place was formidable for his career where he developed his unique style and worked for a time with Miles Davis. The monument on the street did not reflect the place and the place did not reflect the monument.

John Coltrane

John Coltrane

According to the website John Coltrane House…

During the years (1952-58) that Coltrane lived on N. 33 Street, the house was often referred to as Trane’s House by many Philadelphians who were part of the jazz scene and by local fans that frequented the live music bars and clubs… (stories that) Coltrane played his horn on the front porch and in the park across the street are still told by old timers in the neighborhood.

It would appear there was an effort to renew and revitalize the place in 2012. What happened afterwards? Was it a lack of money or organization?

Coltrane had his bout with drugs and alcohol and moved to New York for his final years. He had recovered from his addictions and produced some of his best works inspired by a spiritual recognition before he died at the age of 40 due to liver failure. Some speculate it was from Hepatitis due to his earlier addictions.

It’s All About the Music

You may not be a jazz enthusiast or musician but I challenge anyone who has ever heard a riff by Coltrane to ever forget it. There is something otherworldly about his tenor sax that experts agree was unique and even spiritual. Here’s a sample of “In a Sentimental Mood” with Duke Ellington.

Let me say that I’m not a jazz expert but more a casual fan. There is something that’s palpably different with a saxophone, especially one so sweet and longing as “Trane” played. Coltrane died much too young but the legend lives on. How lucky am I to just step into the legend? It even forced me to review and learn about his life and music for this piece. I began thinking the old building may not make it but at least his music will.

The Legacy: A Love Supreme

Picture of St John ColtraneOf course, there is one piece that even transcends all his other great work and that is “A Love Supreme“, considered to be among the best jazz music ever recorded. Coltrane’s music was so profound that a church was created as Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco that mixes African Orthodox liturgy with Coltrane’s quotes and a heavy dose of his music.

You can learn more about the making of a “A Love Supreme” and the special jazz talent he worked with at the time here with this NPR piece.

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/148148986/147872677

When you begin to see the possibilities of music,
you desire to do something really good for people.” 
-John Coltrane

Bumping into legacy of Coltrane was pure luck…or maybe improvisation? Just as John Coltrane might have played it.

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How the 52 Places Traveler Stays Charged While Chronicling the World – The New York Times

On the subject of tech and power supplies…

I found this article interesting for what to take on a long journey these days. I had a Sony a6000 with a telephoto lense, a cheap chromebook and a multi-port USB recharger which all took up some weight and space. But, considering I had most of that already, did not cost anything. I could plug in each night too. Every day I had to use a power back up unit for my cell phone because I relied heavily on tracking with Google Maps.

We can do better

Robert F. Kennedy’s family held a private memorial service for friends and family at the Amphitheater at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington on Wednesday, June 6, the 50th Anniversary of RFK’s death. For me personally, it was an inspiring moment in my life I will remember forever,

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Preparation for a small ceremonial visit to RFK’s gravesite

I estimated the crowd at 3 to 4 thousand on that beautiful sunny day – fitting for the tone of the ceremony. I and a group of about 10 FreeWalkers members were fortunate to have been invited thanks to the generosity of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, RFK’s first-born and mother of Kerry Kennedy Townsend, his granddaughter, who completed our Kennedy 50-Mile Walk this past February.

The ceremony was upbeat and inspiring with several choruses and two singers uplifting us with song. Most of the content of the program was many notable individuals reciting of the words of RFK taken from various speeches he gave throughout this life.

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Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Bill Clinton

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend introduced the program while Congressman Joseph Kennedy III and President Bill Clinton were the primary speakers. Kathleen and Joe spoke of the man, his personality and his love of family. Bill Clinton spoke to RFK as a leader and his legacy.

Clinton went on to quote RFK, “Tis not to late to seek a newer world.” “But, we must speak to everyone with a feeling of love and an outstretched hand.” He summarized the spirit of Bobby with what he probably would have said if he were alive today at the age of 92, “We can do better. And because we can, we must.”

I can’t help but believe that everyone who attended the ceremony was moved to some degree and maybe recommitted to the ideals of RFK. His spirit lives on.

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Here’s some video of the ceremony taken by USA Today:

https://uw-media.usatoday.com/video/embed/35756215?placement=embed


Here’s a link to my Facebook album on the event.

Abraham, Martin, John & Bobby

It’s a bright sunny morning here in Washington D.C. But, there’s a feeling of sadness in the air as I get ready to go to a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery to acknowledge and celebrate a life well lived but snuffed out much too early. Robert F. Kennedy died 50 years ago today in the prime of his life at age 42, leaving a family of a wife and 11 children and a nation so torn apart by meaningless violence from wars and racial strife. It’s sadder still because these things still haunt us today.

To me Bobby’s death was even more tragic as his political skills and awareness were ascending. His opinions changed as he awoke to the injustices around him. He always had enormous strength and energy and was known as someone who could get things done. By then he had cast aside the advice of his president, party and friends and decide that he needed to correct the wrongs on his own.

The only thing left was to convince a wary public that he could bring a fractured nation together. I don’t think anyone thought that it could be done. But, we all felt that if anyone could, it was Bobby. We hoped for the best. Our agony, even today, is that we will never really know the answer. Bobby had just won the big prize of the California primary and seemed destined to lead us out of the muck we were in.

The NY Times today had a piece about Richard Holler who wrote the Dion song “Abraham, Martin & John” in between the time RFK was shot and before he was pronounced dead only hours later.

He freed a lotta people, but it seems the good die young
But I just looked around and he’s gone.
Didn’t you love the things they stood for?
Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?
And we’ll be free,
Someday soon it’s gonna be one day.
Has anybody here seen my old friend Bobby,
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin and John.

I know we all had that feeling that nothing could be worse than what we have lived through. Or if it could, what would it be?

Having met his first-born, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, this past year and her daughter Kerry, my heart goes out to the entire Kennedy family to have to relive the tragedy again, if for no other reason than to know that we all share the pain and the loss of what might have been.

 

 

Soul Sister

Yesterday, I and a large group of friends, saw Jenn Popper off on her long walking journey from Cranford, New Jersey to Gouldsboro, Maine. I could not help but recall what it felt like for me on my past Epic Bike Ride when I started and what’s ahead for her. There was great joy in hailing the beginning of the journey along with a certain amount of apprehension on what is to come.

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Kickoff of Jenn’s Journey North – Lenape Park, Cranford

To give you the brief background for Jenn’s Journey North, she is determined to channel her positive energy and good deeds to reconcile a bad experience she experienced a couple of years ago in a kayaking accident which took the life of her husband Michael. Among the abundant good will she has created and causes she has helped, is a JustGiving project for Michael Popper which has netted thousands of dollars for two of her favorite – FreeWalkers and East Coast Greenway. It’s a remarkable statement of generosity and empathy that I continue to ponder.

Jenn and Michael were a close couple that anyone could see really enjoyed our FreeWalkers walks and each other. To me, they demonstrated a certain joy in life that is hard to express, yet easy to see. A feeling I think we all desire. That made the accident even more tragic and unimaginable.

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Michael & Jenn

Many people wonder why one needs to walk 800 miles, or in my case, 1600 miles on a bike. Our natural inclination is to consider the goal as the reason for taking on a huge challenge. Her efforts have certainly benefitted others and will earn her bragging rights. But timing is everything. And, then there is the journey itself.

I look back on my long ride, finished just a few weeks ago, and realize that this or any goal could be considered arbitrary. The effort could have been harder or longer (or shorter). Despite my period of bad luck in the beginning, I finished with a unbelievable streak of good luck for most of the journey. The nature of a long journey is its unpredictability.

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A beautiful sunset I witnessed @ Sunset Pier in Key West

What I learned was that the most joy from the journey was being fully in the moment. You have a singular objective – to get to your next location. Things that you cannot control are accepted. It’s how you work with what you have that matters. There’s plenty of time to think and maybe even consider that life is just another similar long journey anyway.

A big hug goes out to Jenn with a mixture of empathy and jealousy that you are taking a great big journey that you will remember for the  rest of your life. Make the most of it. Michael would have wanted it that way.