“20 years now….where’d they go?”

My Dad as a young man at Washington State University, circa 1973/74

Today is the 20th anniversary of my dad passing away. I remember the events of July 24, 2001 very clearly all these years later. His passing was a very peaceful one which I remain so thankful for, because I know he was worried that wouldn’t be the case. The doctors told him that the tumors in his lungs could bleed or cause him to basically suffocate to his death. Instead, around 11:30am that morning, his lungs just stopped. I was sitting across from him on the couch next to my uncle Gary. I saw his stomach lift up, then settle down. Then up again. Then down. And then stay down. He didn’t make a sound or a movement. Just peacefully transitioned out of life at age 47.

My dad in 1999, shortly before his cancer diagnosis. He loved that Santa Anita jacket.

I said in the acknowledgments of my novel in 2014 that I had learned more from my dad after his death than I did during his life. As I write this now, I don’t really feel that way anymore. I think I took for granted the day to day things that he would teach me about as a kid. And in some ways, he taught me a lot of “what not to do” as well.

As a kid, a teenager, and even a young man, I wanted my dad’s approval more than anything. He didn’t give it often, but on occasion he would. And it always felt amazing. My mom supported, encouraged, and loved my sister and I constantly and looking back I think I took her love and dedication for granted. When I think of the sacrifices that parents have to make it makes me emotional. They put their lives, their wants, their needs secondary to those of their children. I still try to express my gratitude to my mother as often as I can because everything she provided for my sister and I, frankly, brings me to tears to think about it. She’s my hero.

My dad would be 67 if he was still alive, and I simply cannot imagine him at that age. When anyone I know dies, they always kind of live on in my memory at the age and appearance from when they passed away. I suppose he’d be retired by now. He used to always talk about wanting to retire in Arizona. He used to love to go to Spring Training down in Phoenix. I remember him smoking on the porch in the mornings down there and saying “there’s no place better than Arizona.”

My dad was a great baseball coach. I can’t stress the word great enough. I truly think he was at his best coaching baseball and had he lived longer he would have made his way further up the coaching ladder. Within 3 years, he built an 18 year old select baseball team that finished 2nd in the nation. He worked tirelessly from home calling coaches and lobbying to get his players scholarships, better draft position, or just a second look from a scout. He died before the internet really exploded and I can’t even begin to tell you the hours on the phone he spent on behalf of his players. I’ve still never seen a coach physically impact a game like my dad could from the 3rd base coaching box. I have no doubt many of his players will echo my statements about that. I got to coach little league for the first time this spring and within a week I understood how my dad felt about it. The kids I got to work with were so wonderful. Great kids, learning the game, and being competitive. I hope to be able to do it again in the future.

My relationship with my dad was very complicated. He was hard on me, often cruel if we’re being honest. About my appearance, my weight, and many other things. He often liked to parent by fear and not from a place of caring. Most of growing up I used to always think that people were either “good” or “bad.” My dad was a good illustration to me that people are far more complex than that. There’s so much gray area in our human experience that it’s just simply impossible to paint everyone with a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ brush. I really think he was trying his best. He had his own demons and I saw him struggle with them in a few different forms. I feel sad about that now. I wish he was able to learn and explore more about his feelings, his struggles, his addictions, but I just don’t think he was equipped to do that. Maybe he would have eventually, but he just ran out of time?

I still think about him somewhat regularly. I get reminded of him when a song might come on. Or when I drive by a ballpark. I still have a strong image of his hands. I’ve always been someone who looks at people’s hands because I think they often tell stories about the person. Maybe they’re just an interesting identifying physical characteristic. But I still very much remember what his hands looked like. His nails. It’s interesting what sticks in our minds. I don’t have a strong sense of his voice any longer. I feel like if I heard it on a video or something now it would sound foreign to me.

His birthday is June 14th. Father’s Day is always around that same week. His death anniversary is July 24th. These days come and go each Summer and it’s fascinating to me how different they are each year. Sometimes I acknowledge them, think about my dad, and move on with my day. Other times I’m sad. Sometimes I’ve been angry on those days. I kind of wonder if how I feel on those anniversaries each year is more of a reflection of what I’m going through at the given time or what. My dad’s mom, my Grandma Beem, passed away last August. I always called her on July 24th each year to talk to her. We’d always mention Dad, but mostly I just wanted to talk with her, make sure she was doing alright, be some kind of comfort to her on what was a tough day for her. She would almost always say “My poor Markie just got cheated out of so much life.” It’ll be strange not to be able to call her this year. Grandma Beem lived to be 94 and was a world class Grandma.

One thing I’ve thought about a lot lately in regards to my dad is the idea of ‘living out a dream’. My dad’s dream was to be a professional baseball player. He was an all-state pitcher in high school. A full scholarship Division 1 pitcher in college. Threw a no-hitter in college. He told me several times he thought he had a chance to make ‘the show.’ But his arm blew out. I get the sense that he never got over that. His dream not happening. I think it crushed him. I write this essay at a time that many of my career dreams are being realized. I get to do something I love, make a nice living, travel, and meet wonderful people. I saw my dad go to work every day to a job he hated. I saw him come home pissed off and irritated from sitting in a truck all day. When I got a bad report card in 8th grade he yelled at me “Do you want to be a truck driver your whole fucking life? Cause if you don’t get your grades up that’s what you’re gonna do.” I have the utmost respect for the men and women who drive truck. I never took that statement as being a truck driver was bad. I took it as he hated it and did I want to be doing something I didn’t love? The visual of him coming home every day miserable from work really hit home with me (my next report card was my best ever by the way.)

But I got into horse racing because of my dad. Betting the races was our biggest bond aside from baseball. So many of my childhood memories are with him at the track. His last weekend on Earth I sat with him at Emerald Downs, betting the races and helping him with his oxygen tank. When I got the job at Tampa Bay Downs a couple months ago I can’t tell you how much I wanted to call him and tell him about it. He would have thought it was so cool. I like to picture him calling me between races to talk about them. Him not being able to see me ever call a race gives me great sadness. That’s probably the dad approval seeker in me, but I think he would have gotten a kick out of it.

I want to keep talking about my dad as long as I’m alive. To keep his memory alive in some little way. I get sad that since neither my sister or I have kids, that not long after we’re gone, he’ll mostly be forgotten in this world. I know that is the case for most of us, with the exception of people who do historically significant things. I suppose we just have to be thankful for the time we have and the memories we have, when we have them. But as long as I’m around, I choose to remember him. The good, the bad, and all the rest.

I love you Dad.

My favorite picture of my dad and I
Saying Goodbye to Gulfstream Park West

Saying Goodbye to Gulfstream Park West

“Thinking will not overcome fear. But action will.”

W. Clement Stone

This week will be the final week ever of racing at Gulfstream Park West and I’m abnormally sad about it. Now I know and respect that there are many people with much stronger ties to the track. There are folks out there who are losing where they work. Others who are losing the track they grew up going to. Or the track they cut their teeth at. All I’m losing is a place I filled in announcing for a few weeks the last couple of years.

I never got to experience Calder Race Course. All I knew of Calder was that it was generally the first track simulcast in the morning at Emerald Downs with the 9:25am Pacific first post time. I remember reading Mike Welsch’s analysis of the races. I remember Phil Saltzman and Bobby Neuman’s distinct voices calling the races there. I do have a strong memory of Ema Bovary winning the Princess Rooney there back in 2004 as she was an Emerald Downs based horse on the big stage.

Whenever I say Gulfstream Park West people often correct me with “you mean Calder. It’ll always be Calder.” I generally reply “respectfully, it’s not Calder anymore.” The Grandstand was knocked down a few years ago, the bushes by the wire haven’t spelled out Calder in years. I truly don’t think I ever got to experience Calder. I got to experience Gulfstream Park West. Gulfstream Park West meant being at the races with maybe 100 people watching in a tent. It meant going over to see Victor in the jocks room to get the changes. It meant climbing the most rickety stairs possible to get up to the top of three trailers that were stacked up on top of each other to call the races. It meant a sore back from leaning out the window to see the horses at the top of the lane. It meant 12 horses running straight at you while you had no height to produce a good depth or angle to see who’s in front. It meant praying the air conditioning would work each day because it was so hot and humid outside that fat me would croak without it. It meant talking to Eddie the camera guy between races. It was easily the toughest and least comfortable place I’ve ever called races. And I loved it beyond belief.

In September of 2018 I was taping an episode of my podcast for BetAmerica when my phone said I had a direct message from my buddy Peter Aiello. Pete calls the races at Gulfstream Park and Gulfstream Park West. Here was the message.

I told Pete to let me think about it. As I wrote in my last blog, anxiety was a MAJOR issue for me for a lot of years. 2016 and 2017 had been pretty tough, but early on in 2018 I had really began to see some progress. Throughout that summer of 2018 I pushed myself more and more and was experiencing significant improvements in all avenues of life. I was traveling, going to baseball games, going to parks, hiking, I lost some weight, I was doing well. And part of the reason for that was because I made it a bit of a mantra to say “yes” to things. So even though I was scared as hell to drive to Miami and maybe even more scared to call races, I told Pete yes, I’d be there.

I asked Pete in the interim before I came down “why did he ask me?” He responded “I thought long and hard about who would really appreciate the chance to do it. And I figured you would.” I get misty-eyed just thinking about how much it means that he thought that and acted on it. My announcing career was dead in the water. I hadn’t called a race in three and a half years. I had applied for a dozen jobs and not gotten a sniff. And truth be told, I didn’t deserve a sniff. And even if I had gotten something in 2016 or 2017, it would have fallen apart because I wasn’t mentally healthy.

Pete was right about what he said, I did appreciate it. But there were any number of people who would have appreciated it as well. And I’ve been really blessed with some great opportunities in announcing the last couple of years that likely wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gotten that first shot at Gulfstream Park West in 2018.

Me and Pete on 11/11/18 at GPW

I still remember that drive to Miami. I didn’t tell anyone I was going outside of my mom, my lady friend, and I think Frank Mirahmadi and Travis Stone. I drove from Seattle to Vegas. To Amarillo, Texas. To Jackson, Mississippi. To Jacksonville, Florida. Then to Miami. I remember in Jacksonville it was like 65 and sunny and I thought “oh man this is so nice.” Then as I got further south on I-95 I realized “ok well it’s a little humid.” Then I pulled into the Miami metro area. I went to a Whole Foods and from just the walk from the car to the store I was sweating. Like, a lot. The entire drive in mid-November across the country had been through temps in the 40s. It was 88 and humid and I thought I was gonna die. I went and visited Pete, got the lay of the Gulfstream Park West land, and then went to my hotel.

November 14, 2018 came and I remember being in that booth early that day. I decided to turn my phone off and just try and do my best. I knew I wouldn’t be that good calling races. I had fully anticipated being very nervous. And I was. The first race came. I took a deep breath, and the gates opened.

You can hear the nerves in my voice. I’m running out of air cause I’m breathing shallow. But I got through it. And the next race went better. As did the one after that. My entire goal with that first trip was just to be able to end my announcing career on my terms. I had left Louisiana Downs three and a half years earlier a complete wreck. I was sad and anxious and just a mess. This was my opportunity to call some good races for two weeks and get rid of the bad taste with how it ended. I truly never thought it would lead to more announcing opportunities even though I’m certainly happy it did.

I had a blast those two weeks in Florida in 2018. Calling the races at GPW. Visiting Pompano Park, watching greyhounds at Palm Beach Kennel Club with my friend Gabe, going to see Gators on those cool fan boats. Having a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with the Tweedle’s in Boca. Just great. I even got to go back in 2019 and call the races at GPW for a whole month. The last race I was there for in 2019 I gave a little tribute call to Phil Saltzman. I didn’t know if GPW was gonna be around for 2020, or if I’d be going, so I thought it was appropriate for my last memory there to honor the longtime Calder voice.

Covid kind of killed any chance of me going back this year to fill in for Pete, but that’s ok. I’m filled with memories of my two stints at GPW and the rebirth it meant for my racecalling career.

My favorite memory at Gulfstream Park West actually occurred in the parking lot there. Back on that first day of calling there, November 14, 2018, the one with the nervous video linked a ways back up in this now probably too long blog. I remember walking out to the car to head back to my hotel. I was swollen with pride. Happy to have gotten up there and faced my fears and to have done the job again. I turned my phone back on and was greeted by a slew of texts and congrats. I read them all, and then I called my mom. She more than anyone had had a front row seat to my struggle with anxiety and depression. She’d been to the hospitals, she’d seen the freak outs, she’d seen the spark go out in my eyes. She’d gotten so many phone calls with “I just can’t do it anymore and I’m coming home.”

She answered the phone and I could hear the caution in her voice wondering how the day went. I called her fully intent on telling her that I had fun! And that it was a great day! And that some of the calls were even decent! But when I heard her voice all I said was “I did it.” And then I started crying. I cried for probably thirty seconds before gathering myself to tell her “I’m just so happy mom. This is a good cry.” She sat and listened while I whaled over the phone. After a certain point she just kept saying “get it out. Just get it out.” I must have sat in that parking lot and cried for twenty minutes. Looking back I think it was just all the emotion of not just a victory, but truly feeling I was getting my life back. Maybe I was finally leaving anxiety in the rearview mirror, or at least just relegating it to an occasional nuisance as opposed to the all-consuming, life altering, identity defining problem that it was. And I wanted to share that with my mom because she’d always done everything she could to give me a chance to have the life I wanted. That emotional release is something I’ll never forget. I’ve never been so run over with emotion. It was honestly one of the best days and moments of my life. Sitting there crying in the parking lot at Gulfstream Park West.

Goodbye Gulfstream Park West

Portland and the ‘farce of the past’

“Isn’t it strange how the seasons just pass, when you’re lost in the farce of the past” Mikel Jollett

I moved out of Portland, Oregon two days before new year’s day of 2015. I had lived there full time since 2008, part time since 2006, and I was ready to leave. So I thought. As it turns out I would only be in Louisiana for four months before returning to my “home” home of the Seattle area of Washington. I had backtracked into a sea of anxiety and depression, one that felt all too familiar and reminiscent of what my life was like in Portland. I used to always look for geographical fixes to problems that it turns out I brought with me wherever I resided. For some reason I believed if I just could go somewhere new, start over, that I’d feel better. I tried it several times and it just never worked. Cincinnati. Portland. Shreveport. Las Vegas. All ended with me struggling with my mental health and fleeing to go back to “home” home in Washington.

When I go to Portland, Oregon anymore, it’s generally just passing through. I’ll stay on I-5 and maybe stop in Tigard to get some lunch at Busters BBQ. But mostly I skip the city. When I passed through on Halloween a few weeks ago going back to Grants Pass, this song from Airborne Toxic Event came on my shuffle. Everything I love is broken.

It’s probably my favorite song on what has been my favorite record of 2020. The chorus lyric that I started this blog with, it resonates with me. So much of anxiety was living in the ‘farce of the past’. I realized as the song came on and I looked over at Portland from across the Willamette River on I-5, that going through Portland makes me feel a certain way. A weird mix of nostalgia and sadness. I think about friends that I made there that I don’t stay in touch with. I think about Portland Meadows, which is now just another boring warehouse. But I mostly think about so many of the bad times I had there. They were truly the worst years of my life. And for a long time I think I associated Portland with anxiety and depression and with my hardest times.

Like many people with mental health issues, my struggles ebbed and flowed. I’d go for months doing alright. Working, socializing, dating, doing things. Then I’d start slipping into isolation and go months where I did nothing at all. I remember stretches of time where I only left my apartment for curbside food pick ups and to go sit at the hospital. I spent entire days reading in hospitals because I was so scared and anxious that I knew if I had a panic attack or wanted to hurt myself, at least I was already at the hospital. I made the hospital a “safe place”. One day I’d go to Providence Portland over off 47th and Glisan. The next day to St. Vincents on the west side. From 2011 to 2013 I mostly went to O.H.S.U. because I lived right next to it.

In 2013 I announced an entire season of horse races from an office downstairs because I was too scared to go up to the booth. I had started having panic attacks there and just couldn’t make it anymore.

There was a stretch of time where I’d leave the track after barely getting through the races and I’d drive to Legacy Emanuel Hospital and sit in the parking lot for 20 minutes and try to calm down. Then i’d drive across the broadway bridge to Good Samaritan Hospital and park there. Try and calm down. Then I’d either go to OHSU and eat dinner or go home and try and distract myself until the bliss of tiredness came upon me.

I missed a couple weeks that season because I finally checked into the hospital after a particularly frightening episode. I remember being up in the psych ward and one of the other people there telling me “up here there’s either people having psychotic breakdowns or sad kids.” I was a sad kid I guess. Anxiety was always my primary symptom. But it got so bad that my life was in near complete isolation, that depression became a problem. I skipped coming home for Thanksgiving. For Christmas. I just sat in my apartment hoping to get better and feeling like I never would.

I get sad thinking about those times. I’m so happy that I made it through those times and maybe without the struggle I wouldn’t be so appreciative of how much better I’ve done these last two or three years. But I still grieve about all that time. Time spent being scared. Hopeless.

I remember a great therapist I worked with, devora, one time telling me to bring in a picture of my younger self. We were working on self-esteem issues and we talked about how I was so hard and mean to myself. I would constantly belittle myself about my weight, my looks, my anxiety, my abilities, everything. She had me look at this picture of me from when I was in first grade.

She would tell me to look at that child and would I say those same things to him that I’m saying to the 30 year old him? Of course not. He didn’t do anything to deserve that. We spent months working through my early years, my relationship with my dad, my relationship with myself.

In a weird way, the last few months, I feel like i’ve been working through my years after therapy. My last years in Portland and my first years back in Washington. Working on trying to accept that those years are gone. That ‘youth’ is in some ways gone. Maybe that’s just part of turning 40, reflecting on where you were. I do think I’m getting better at just realizing that I was sick, and I was doing the best I could with my illness. I don’t think 30 year old Jason would be so kind about his struggles. I’m glad his older counterpart can be more forgiving and accepting. I’ve moved on from shame about my anxiety and those years. I think I’m moving on from feeling sad about those years. I don’t know if I’ll get to feeling grateful for those years, but I can certainly continue working on acceptance of them.

I’ve made some incredible strides in recent years in regards to my anxiety and mental health. Who knew happiness was so much work. I used to always hope it would just show up one day. Turns out it doesn’t work that way. To me the biggest difference between then and now is that back then I truly dreaded a new day beginning. I would be upset when I woke up because it meant I had to try and get through the day again. Now I truly wake up ready for a new day, excited about it, and hopeful for what the day and the week and the month will bring. I can’t convey how grateful I am for that to be the case. Because I know how hard it is when it’s the other way.

Today when I passed through Portland I had those same feelings of nostalgia and started to feel a little sad. But I tried to shift my focus back to acceptance. I pulled off the freeway and drove around. I went to a couple of my old residences. They looked exactly the same. Much of downtown looked the same. Some looked different. But overall, it’s still Portland. I texted some old friends from there I hadn’t talked to in years. Just to tell them hello and see how they are. I met some of the most caring people I’ve ever known in Portland. It’s a great city in that way.

I want my relationship with Portland to move forward. We’ll still just be occasional acquaintances, but I hope going forward that visits to PDX, or even just passing by, will be more celebratory and enjoying the beauty of the Rose City and what is happening now, as opposed to what was.

Me in Portland today

“All the things we’ve done, trying to harden our shells”

Goodnight….to The Beemie Awards

Wanted to make a formal announcement that a couple months ago I decided to end The Beemie Awards. Well I shouldn’t say end, never say never, etc, but I’m not planning on doing them anymore. I wish I could blame it on the craziness of 2020, but the truth is, I just think they’ve run their course. I try and be a creative person and I thought last year’s show was good, but it was certainly just the same stuff as previous years. I think to continue on they would have needed to really change and grow and unfortunately right now I don’t see that as a possibility.

My intention with the show was always to just make a light hearted and fun night for racing folks and fans. The best part of it to me was always everyone else’s tweets and interactions and them playing along.

Thanks to everyone who watched and supported the show over the years, including our sponsors Little Red Feather, SIMHorseracing, and of course, Runhappy. The “Beemie Awards” team of Mark, Danny, and Carly were so fun to write and create with. Such funny people. So big ups to them.

Thanks everyone!

Jason

More Trip videos!

Been a few weeks on the road and I’ve been enjoying getting to make these little travel videos.  Here’s three more from this trip including Bakersfield to Las Vegas.  A day hike at Red Rock Canyon and finally a day at Golden Gate Fields near San Francisco.

VLOG! Touring Buckley and Carbonado, Washington

Took a short drive this morning out to the towns of Buckley and Carbonado, Washington.  There really isn’t too much to them, but each little town has it’s own feel, so it’s fun to go and walk around them.  Carbonado is one of those places that a million people pass by as it’s on the way out to Mt. Rainier National Park.  But you have to pull of the highway to get to the actual town and I can’t imagine many folks actually make the turn.  So here’s a video of the trip as well as a visit to the Carbonado Cemetery, which had graves from all the way back to the mid 1800s.

Road Trip to Twin Lakes and Grand Coulee Dam

 

What a fun day today.  Took a long road trip (250 miles each way or so!) out to Eastern Washington to Twin Lakes.  Along the way stopped at Soap Lake, Grand Coulee Dam, and Nespelem.  I hadn’t made that trip since 1993 when my Grandpa Chuck passed away.  Twin Lakes was where we spent our summers and it was so fun to go see it.  It looked exactly how it did in my minds eye.  Just beautiful.  I did a vlog of the trip, which you can watch here:

 

Everyone have a good weekend!

Working on my Youtube Channel

One of the favorite things I’ve learned in recent years is video editing.  I’m still very much a beginner at it, but it is so enjoyable to tell a story using video.  And with Iphones being such a solid camera nowadays, you really can make little movies just with a few clicks.   Personally I just like to document my travels and every so often I’ll go back and watch a video and it’s just fun to be transported back to that time for just a few minutes.  My goal for 2020 on Youtube is to produce multiple videos per month and to grow my subscriber number up to 1,000.   If you want to check out my videos and help get me to my subscriber goal, here’s a link to the channel.

Jason’s Youtube Channel 

There’s lots of videos of visits to horse tracks as well as just personal travel.

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