Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ready! Set! Trot!

You'd think I would have learned something from my Warrior Dash experience, but no, it turns out I am a glutton for punishment. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, my mother called and asked Jackson and me to run the Turkey Trot, or Holden Road Race, with her on Thanksgiving morning.  "It's just a 5k and it will be fun, then we can eat as much pie and turkey as we want!"

My mother presented an excellent point. You see, as a young couple, with both of our families in the area, we often attend two Thanksgiving dinners.  Each year, we try to pace ourselves, just eating small portions, skipping some sides with the expectation we will eat the butternut squash at the next meal, but it is normally easier said than done.  I love Thanksgiving. I love each and every side dish you can imagine: cranberry sauce, bread stuffing (or dressing if you are from the south), meat stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, gravy, mashed potatoes, peas, carrots, rolls [although they were suspiciously missing from my family's meal this year], ... the list goes on.  It is extremely difficult to see your favorite foods, warm and delicious, sitting in front of you and not want to have at least a bite, if not a heaping helping. So, with my horrible track record of not scaling back, I agreed to race.

To prepare for race day, I had every intention of doing a few practice miles around my neighborhood park.  Unfortunately, the weather was not in agreement with my plans.  So, I was trotting cold turkey.  I hadn't even attempted to run in at least 3 months.  Sometimes I think that I'm asking to be injured...

Because this was a last minute decision, Jack, Mom and I arrived extremely early to register.  We wanted to make sure we didn't have to wait in a long line and we wanted to snag t-shirts before they ran out.  Registration is $25 a person and it goes to the Wachussett Food Bank, so kudos for this being a for a good cause.  We filled out our waivers, paid our fees and were told that they were already out of t-shirts. Bummer, but I moved on quickly to a more important topic, IT WAS FREEZING.

I'm not sure if I have mentioned this in any prior posts, but I honestly hate the cold.  I must have poor circulation or something because I am always chilled and my fingers turn blue on a fairly regular basis.  My teeth spend most of the winter chattering and it's not unusual for me to resemble the little brother from a Christmas Story due to the amount of layers I sport through the winter months.  I kid you not.

After registering, to escape from the cold, we retreated back to my car and blasted the heat. We watched the parking lot fill up (the race starts at a Big Y -a local grocery chain) and listened to Acoustic Sunrise, the Thanksgiving addition.  I hate to go off on an extreme tangent, but it must be said.  If you don't spend your Sunday mornings listening to Acoustic Sunrise, you are missing out.  Several radio stations option it and it is amazing.  I wouldn't lie to you. 

Alright, race time.  This time, we stood at the back, not like that Warrior Dash fiasco.  My mother and I decided we would stay together and let Jackson and his long legs go as far ahead of us as he wanted.  It was really really cold while we waited for the actual start of the race and by the time we got the go ahead, I was a little numb.  This may have been a good thing.  I couldn't feel any discomfort from running during the first mile, because I couldn't feel my feet. Mom and I found a decent pace and were feeling pretty confident through mile one.  We had decided before the start that our goal was to finish the race without stopping or walking, not to win it.

The race itself was an exciting experience.  It was fun to see all of the families, friends and pets running through the roads of Holden.  I had a golden retriever who was particularly fond of running next to me and sniffing me for about a quarter mile.  Many Holden residents stood on their lawns waving and cheering us on or had signs of encouragement for family and friends.  It was sweet and charming. 

Back to the running.  At the 1.5 mile mark, I was contemplating walking.  My shins hurt and I could feel me feet again.  I was getting tired and there was a hill up ahead.  As we reached the base of the hill my mother said to me "This is where I say to myself, if I count to 50 the hill will be over." I decided to take her advice and followed her little pep talk and began counting.  Unfortunately, I was way over 50 when we reached the top.  The hill was deceptively large - not steep but kind of rolling.  My mother sheepishly said "Oops" a few seconds later, but the good news was that after the hill I didn't feel like walking any more.  We powered through the next mile like champs.

I had no idea what the race path was going to look like, but I did know that you ended back where you started.  I also know that we started running down hill, so I correctly assumed that we'd have to run up that hill to finish.  I paced myself accordingly.  What I didn't account for was that we actually finished further up the hill than our origin point, so as I was about to turn into the parking lot to reach my assumed finish line, a "helpful" gentleman waved me on saying "Keep climbing, you are almost there." I gave him the stink eye, but continued on my way.

Mom and I finished the race strong and Jackson was waiting for us a few paces before the end clapping and cheering.  It was the perfect way to finish the race and to start Thanksgiving.  I then went on to eat my weight in pie...  just kidding! Kind of....

We'll probably be running again next year.  I'll be sure to register early to get a t-shirt!  Hope to see you there!

Until next time,

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Back off Oscar Meyer, we don't want your BallParks around here...

Today I bring to you a post about a Worcester institution.  A place that might actually be the most recognizable spot in in the city.  Anyone who grew-up here has a memory or story about this particular restaurant.  It's a big deal.
courtesy of worcestermag.com via google image search - not mine!
Yup.  Coney Island Hot Dogs. This place is like a time warp and my god is it awesome. There's something so simplistically brilliant about a hot dog restaurant.  Sure they have other things on the menu, but quite frankly you aren't really supposed to order them.  (Okay, okay, someone ordered a hamburger the last time I was there, but I know everyone around was rightfully judging them.) They have an ingenious business model and an established brand that keeps a steady line at lunch and makes them a household name. 

My childhood memories of Coney Island all include my father.  It was a go-to lunch spot after a midday doctor's appointment.  It seems to be a haven for dads and young children still to this day.  I am guessing it must be some sort of unwritten Worcester code that fathers must bring their child to Coney Island for a hot dog covered in ketchup after they have gone through the traumatic experience of getting a vaccination or blood drawn. To combat tears, instead of the hug or kiss because of an "oww-ie" or "boo-boo," Worcester dads heal wounds with chocolate milk and the messiest lunch available.  And god bless them for it, seriously.  

It occurs to me that my favorite Coney Island memories aren't even my own.  My uncle, father and older cousins tell stories about my grandfather putting them to work throughout the summer, doing some excessive landscaping, house-building or other rigorous job and if you've made acceptable progress by noontime he'd bring you a Coney Island hotdog for lunch.  If you were particularly successful he might throw in a bag of chips, too.

Walking into Coney Island for the first time in 12 years, I realized it hasn't changed a bit since my grandfather was stopping in decades ago. Stepping through the doors has you wondering if you've just joined the cast of Pleasantville. Old oak booths line the walls and center aisle, and a the counter servers still cater to the inevitable long line of the lunch rush. Over the decades, patrons have etched notes, names, dates, quotes and other colorful verses into the wooden seating, and while it may detract from the appeal at first glance, there is something comforting and unique about the environment it fosters.  To my knowledge, they've never tried to sand and re-stain the booths, the graffiti is part of the decor.

Two new items stood out to me.  First, the jukebox had been updated with cds of "newer" artists, as in the last decade.  No one was using it, but I did note it's presence.  Second, because Coney Island is still CASH ONLY, they have an ATM in an adjoining space that holds a bar room.  I, personally, had never noticed the bar room and can't really comment on it.  But, it's existence didn't really surprise me. 

So, moving on with my tale... I grabbed some cash, because I was stupidly unprepared to pay with cash and got in line. Coney Island is like a well-oiled machine when it comes to their hot dogs.  There is a system and they are prepared for the seasoned veteran and the new-comer alike.  They are "at-the-ready" waiting for your order and they are so quick that it is as if magically your hot dogs appear.  They even have their own lingo for your toppings, such as "up" or "with sauce."  I'm not going to tell you what each is, the fun of ordering is in the adrenaline rush that comes with trying to figure out what the hell everyone is talking about. They have some pretty awesome sides too, like gigantic pickles and baked beans.  They offer polar beverages and possibly Wachusett potato chips, but they might be just a generic brand. 

Anyway, the best part is that the food is so cheap! I think it is $1.50 per hot dog and I'm pretty sure that includes any toppings you want.  I paid for lunch for two people and spent less than $10, with 2 sides and 2 drinks.  Amazing, right? I know.

So, it is almost lunch time, head to Coney Island and let me know what you think.  I give it two very enthusiastic thumbs up and gold star for added effect!

<3 K