August Journaling Day 11: Love

What is love? This thing I’ve been told, since thirteen years old, where you feel understood, undeniably good. A feeling apart when you’ve emptied your heart.

All These Engagements by Airborne Toxic Event

That lyric above is kind of what I thought about when sitting down to write this entry. What is love? Side note, the album that song is from, Hollywood Park, is incredible. Easily one of my favorite albums of the last five years. Ok back to love. It does have to be one of the trickier things to define. Is it more of a feeling than anything? Is it simply a word to encompass connection? Appreciation? Loyalty? Lust? It feels like such an all encompassing word for lots of different things.

My ultimate conclusion on what is love is that it’s a lot of different things. And has many different levels, intentions, and meanings. Because I do have the topic of dating slated for later this month, I wondered if I shouldn’t include anything about ‘romantic’ love in this blog. But I think they’re enough of a different topic that even though there might be some overlap, they’ll be two very different entries.

If you ask me what or who is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of love I’d say my mom. Then my more extended family. Then my friends. And so on. But to me mom represents one of the best forms of love. The mother/child bond is an entirely unique connection. I mean, she’s the only person who’s known me from the first breath I took on earth up til now. She fed me, clothed me, raised me. What more loving act is there than to raise your child and do all the things necessary to keep them safe and help them learn and grow? The reason I bring this particular example up is how longevity and experiences help manifest and maintain love. I talk to my mom a couple times a week. I don’t see her all that often because we live on different coasts. So many of my adventures in work and travel she’s not been to. There’s probably 20 people who I talk to more on a weekly basis than her. There’s certainly people I talk about hard or important things in my life to before her. Yet to me she’s still the first person I think about when I think about love. I suppose the ground we’ve covered together and the bond of mother and child will just always carry such weight. I mean if you asked me to cry immediately, I’d just think about how much I appreciate my mom and all the things she’s done for us, and bam, tears.

It’s funny because I think family and parental love is kind of just there. Like I’m born into the world and my mom loves me on day one. But the reality is it is a form of earned love, as really I think all love is. It is developed and reinforced over years and years and years. The reason I bring that up is to transition to talking about love of friends. That type of love is something I think comes over a great expanse of time. You never meet someone and the first day you hang out tell them you love them. Maybe you do, but you’re a psycho 🙂 But seriously, if you asked me what friends I ‘love’, it would be the ones who I’ve been through the most with. Who I’ve shared successes and failures with. Who I’ve watched them change and grow and evolve. It wouldn’t be someone I met two months ago. Friendship love is certainly a love that has to be earned and takes years in my opinion.

One funny thing about the word love, especially using it in the phrase “I love you”. I have said that phrase when I meant it and it is one of the most comfortable things for me to say. But I’ve also said it when I was unsure if I meant it, or I didn’t mean it, and it’s one of the most awkward and uncomfortable things to say. It’s a phrase that carries so much weight and it’s very interesting how different it feels to say it when you really mean it vs. when you don’t.

I often tell the story about how on a first date a woman asked me if I’d ever been in love and had my heart broken and I always answer “yes, when Smarty Jones lost the Belmont Stakes”. She looked at me like I was an alien and clearly didn’t appreciate how great Smarty was. I did love him! But I have wondered when it comes to love in a romantic sense, have I ever truly been in love? Like Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting level in love. Because I’ve certainly loved partners that I’ve had. I still love some of them, obviously just in a friendship kind of love at this point. But it is love. But was/is it the almighty “in love” we always hear about.

The real answer is I don’t know. I’ve absolutely had a broken heart before. A few times. That feeling in the pit of your stomach where all you think about is that person and the fact that it’s over. Or maybe worse yet, it never begun. Where just the thought of them leads to that dull warm blanket of sadness enveloping your whole body. I’ve had that. And that feeling breaks you down. It makes you question everything about yourself and what is wrong with you that it didn’t work out. But is that a result of being “in love”? I guess I feel that “in love”, like many of the other types of love, requires time. But maybe it’s different? I mean part of me thinks that two people together 20 years should be hurting worse upon a breakup than two people together for six months? Oddly enough I think my greatest heartbreak was someone I was never even technically with.

As I said above, I think love is a lot of things. I think we know it when we see it and experience it. But it can be confusing and beautiful at the same time. I mean love is the ultimate muse for most of the great art and music of our time right? Is it the greatest of human emotions and experiences? If Smarty would have won the Belmont I could probably answer that question.

August Journaling Day 10: Gambling

So before we get into today’s topic, let me just say that I’m one third of the way through this journaling exercise and today is the first night I’m kinda like “eh, I don’t want to do this.” I’ve thoroughly been enjoying doing a nightly journal/write up though, today was just a long day. But we persevere! Onward to gambling!

It’s kind of funny writing this blog tonight because we just had a big Pick 5 carryover pool at Colonial Downs. One of the highlights for a gambler! In yesterday’s entry I talked a lot about gambling in relation to how my relationship with money developed. Today I want to try and look at my lifelong relationship with gambling itself. The activity and occupation, more than the money.

In my baby book, at age 10 days I think, my mom has an entry written down about my dad laying me on the floor and dealing out my first hand of poker. Apparently he won and I started my career on the losing end. So here are some of my strongest and earliest memories of how my life has been tied to gambling. My mom worked in (and eventually owned) a poker room/casino from the time I was four years old up until she sold the business a few years ago. I’m probably throwing mom under the bus a bit here, but I remember being 8 years old and her finishing up work while me and my sister sat at the chefs counter eating dinner and playing pull tabs. She’d put $5 worth in front of us and we’d play. One time I hit a $100 winner and that’s how I paid for a new Easton C-Core bat (i hit nukes with that bat). When I was around 9 and 10 years old, my dad would take me to Longacres a couple days a week. My mom would give me $20 and I’d give that to my dad and he would make my bets. I was a chalk eating weasel and mostly just bet Gary Boulanger to win. One time though, the Space Needle Handicap of 1991 I think? I hit a $2 exacta Captain Condo over Grandstand Gabe for like $44. I asked my dad for the money and he said “I’ll get it to you next week, don’t tell your mother.” My first lesson to not use an untrustworthy bookie!

As teenagers me and my friends would always bet but just on dumb stuff for minute stakes. As we got into high school and college we played quarter poker games, bowled for money, and real poker out at the Indian Casino on Bainbridge Island. My jobs in the summer during college were always at my mom’s poker room. One summer I did accounting, two summers I did surveillance. One summer I just didn’t work. After college and after dropping out of law school, I worked as a floor man at the poker room. It was my first ‘real job’ out of school and for a young kid it was good money. I even wore a suit! I’d get an envelope of cash each night at like 2am when I left work and I’d be betting that money at Emerald Downs on Calder at 9:25am the next morning.

I’d say my gambling started to really dial up around this time. I went from someone who played maybe $30 to $50 at the track to someone who started to bring $200 each day. By 2005,2006, and 2007, I became someone who brought $700 or $800 to the track each time. My betting shifted from handicapping and really trying to just firing. I was a total action player. It was unsustainable for a lot of reasons and in 2010 I pretty much stopped altogether. I was fortunate I never went into debt with gambling but I also never saved up any money because of it.

In those years since 2010 I’ve gotten to know some really great folks who are professional gamblers. And let me tell you, they do not treat it as gambling. At least like how most people think of gambling. To them it’s all about edge. It’s about getting their money in with an advantage against the house or the odds of the game. It’s not about ego, it’s not about handicapping, it’s not about any of that. It’s about betting with an edge. It’s a business to them. When I saw a race-card with ten races, I saw ten chances to make a bet. They might see 1 or 2. They might see 0. They aren’t looking for action. They’re looking for opportunities to take advantage and make money.

Honestly watching these people and listening and talking to them has made me think about gambling in such a different light than I used to. It’s math and strategy and admiring the path to how they got to their decision as opposed to just giving a “yay” if they won and a “awww” if they lost.

Outside of a short stint in real estate (I sold one house in a year), my entire career since I left Law School has been in the gambling industry. Either poker or horse racing. I enjoy the camaraderie of it, the competition of it, and working around and learning from some extremely smart gamblers. Twenty years of working in gambling and it’s still fascinating to me. And it’s still fun. I pinch myself all the time that I get to work at the track let alone announce races.

I will end with this. There are a lot of phonies in this world. The thought on gambling by many is it’s an easy way to get free money. And many gamblers who have never won and have no chance to ever win still believe they can. That makes it a breeding ground for hustlers, stiffs, lowlifes, and liars. People who want to pray on others because they can. I think when you don’t know any better they aren’t easy to spot. You want to believe they have the answers or can really help. I feel like now I can tell within five minutes of talking to someone if they have a clue or if they’re a phony. And I’m not saying I’m some sharp now or anything. But I guess I’d just say be careful who you trust in this world of gambling and be really careful who you give/loan/front money to.

Working at the OTB, playing our old “Beat the Announcer” Game. Those shirts are collectables!

August Journaling Day 9: Money

Is there a more stressful part of life than money? I mean I suppose relationships can be? Certainly death probably trumps all of it, but money has to be up there. My relationship with money feels the healthiest it’s ever been right now but given my pp’s with money, that ain’t saying much. I think like everyone I have money regrets, but many of those lessons I think have helped me deal with it and treat it better now.

Money is a strange topic to write about publicly because I’m writing about my personal relationship to it. That said, I think it’s an important topic to talk about with people you trust. It’s something we all to some degree have to deal with and is a necessity in modern life.

My earliest concept of money was hearing my dad complain about it. He ALWAYS complained about money. As a kid looking back we never went without. We always had food, clothes, and the necessities as far as I can tell. We got to take yearly vacations and often when I wanted something like a new baseball bat or golf clubs, I generally got it. But looking back now as an adult, I can see how it would be hard. My parents were very much middle class and worked hard. My dad was a union truck driver and basically hated his job. In fact when I got bad grades in 8th grade the speech he gave me was “Do you want to be a truck driver like me and hate your job the rest of your life?” No sir, I don’t want to hate my job.

But he just always felt stressed about money. My mom very well might have been as well, but she never said anything or made it feel that way. I do think that gambling was the source of a lot of my dad’s money stress. I’ll never forget when he hit a twin-trifecta for like $11,000. We came home and my dad had the money spread out all over the table. My mom said “That 11k is gonna cost you $30k.” I have no doubt she was right.

My dad with some cash after a win at Longacres

Gambling (which is tomorrow’s topic) had a major effect on how I’ve viewed money in my lifetime. My first job was at Shakeys Pizza Parlor in Renton and right when those $150 bi-weekly checks started coming in was about the time we started playing quarter poker games with my buddies. That was also when Emerald Downs opened. Money came and went all the time and even though I had a job in high school, I was often asking my parents for money. And often gambling it away. $20 one night. $10 the next. Small time stuff, but still.

Again I don’t want to touch on gambling too much cause I’m going to write about that tomorrow. But in general my view of money for all of my teens and all of my twenties was that it was expendable. My mom’s business really took off in the late 90s and throughout the 2000s and I think I often thought because she was doing well, that I had back up no matter how many times I blew my always tiny bankroll. Believe me she bailed me out with money more times than I can count in those early adulthood years.

I really wish that I’d received some real financial literacy and training as a younger person. Now granted I likely would have ignored it and not invested or anything, but knowing what I know now, I really do wish I’d had some education about it. I really started trying to learn about money and how to manage it, grow it, and be responsible with it, just in the last few years. It’s made me appreciate money more, respect it more, and also be more at ease about talking about it.

Before I continue on, it would be stupid not to admit that part of the education and feeling better about money for me certainly coincides with making more of it. I spent most of my career making $30k to $50k a year and getting by, paying rent, but never getting ahead. I had some medical debt and student loans that hung over me for years and feeling like you’re just always swimming upstream and trying to keep your head above water is so damn hard. So to be earning more now and be out of debt and to be saving is a blessing and something I’m very grateful for. I tend to think most people work hard so I don’t want to pat myself on the back, but I do think I’ve worked hard for the opportunities I’ve gotten. I’m also aware that some of me getting those opportunities is just luck. But a little luck never hurt 🙂

The one thing I haven’t been able to shake from my earlier relationship with money is never having a feeling of “comfort” in regards to money. Like I used to always think as long as I have a few grand in the bank I’m ok. But as I’ve saved up more, the comfort that I thought would come with that doesn’t really settle in. Like if I got fired from all my jobs today, I’d be fine for a while. Certainly long enough to find a new job(s) and no change to my lifestyle. But maybe that’s part of money. Does anyone every feel “comfortable”? I mean, even if I had a million bucks someday, do you feel totally comfortable? I don’t know, but I’d love to find out.

August Journaling Day 8: Friendship

The life category of “friends” is without a doubt somewhere that I’ve been extraordinarily blessed. I am so beyond thankful and fortunate that I have so many people in my life who love me, care about me, spend time with me, talk with me, and share their lives with me, that it makes me emotional just thinking about it.

I never had any friends again like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?

Stand By Me

My first friends were those friends mentioned in the quote above. Four of us boys, all born in ’79 or ’80, all living within a few houses of each other on Index Avenue in Renton, Washington. Ross, Danny, Jamie, and me. We were best friends as little kids, best friends throughout elementary school. Riding bikes, making forts, sleepovers, baseball, all of it. I probably had 750 career home runs off of Ross and Jamie in the back yard. I think part of the reason Stand By Me is one of my favorite movies is because their little gang reminded me of my group of misfit friends. And just like the movie, junior high hit, and we all split up. Well, moreso I split up. Our family moved to the next town over. I saw them on occasion thru junior high, but by high school, I didn’t talk to any of them. I saw Jamie once or twice in our early 20’s but other than that, have never heard from any of them. My mom said Danny came into her pizza parlor a few months ago and looked good. It’s amazing how people so seemingly important in our lives at one time can just drift away from us.

My friends tend to come from a few different places. Many of my closest friends nowadays are people in and around horse racing. Some are people who I dated and we decided to just be friends instead. And a few are from baseball and high school. That said, I’ve never been a “best friend” person. Never felt like there was that one person who rose above all others to receive that moniker. And I’m kind of glad, cause that seems like a lot of pressure!

I will say though, in the last several years, I’ve certainly had a few friendships that have really evolved into more connected and deeper friendships. And it’s been something I’m incredibly grateful for. Growing up I always kept a lot of stuff to myself and most of my friends were people who I got together with, had fun with, played sports with, etc. We’d never talk about anything too serious and usually it was just all about good times. And I still love those friends and would do anything for them.

But I think following up on what I said about therapy in yesterday’s post, realizing that I can be there for my friends for much deeper and complicated talks as well as being able to really be open and honest with them and lean on them when I need support, is something that just has had such extreme value. I feel closer to these friends than almost anyone in my life. And to know that they trust me to talk about hard times in their lives, or to celebrate monumental successes in either of our lives. Well it’s certainly broadened my definition and idea of what friendship can be.

I know that anxiety has and will come up a lot in these entries, but unfortunately for me it was just such a defining struggle for so long, that it’s impossible for it not to have touched almost every area of my life. And friendship is no different. i spent a lot of my twenties and thirties telling friends “I wish I could have been there” or “Sorry I can’t make that.” Of the many dozen close friends that I have, I think I’ve been to three weddings. And one of those I came for the ceremony, said my congrats, and left early. But I didn’t attend at least fifteen or twenty of them due to either being too nervous or feeling too much shame about my anxiety, my weight, or just myself. Even my closest friends during that time, I would turn down invitations to hang out or see them and make up some lie or excuse, when the truth was i was just too anxious and sad.

The good news is, most now understand and really weren’t ever upset about it. They just care about me and are happy I’m doing better. It’s interesting because during those times when you isolate, you feel so alone and feel as though nobody loves you or cares about you. However if I’d have called any one of 100 people and asked to talk or come hang out, they’d have been right over. I know that now, and I wish I would have realized it more then. But maybe time was the only thing that was going to allow me to see that.

Let me just end with gratitude towards my friends. Thanks you so much for being in my life and allowing me to be a part of yours. It truly means everything.

Me and some of my closest high school buddies, all of whom I still stay in touch with. This photo is from 2013.

August Journaling Day 7: Therapy

I actually added this one to the list the other day and took away something that I thought was a little redundant to another topic. I was having a conversation with a friend recently about therapy and I just think the important role it played for me had me wanting to do some writing on it. So here we are. I haven’t been in therapy since 2014 but the 10 years I spent doing it still serve me to this day. And in a strange way I actually think they help more now than they did back then. Hopefully I’ll be able to communicate why that is throughout this.

My first visit to a therapist was in late 2003 and it was strictly a result of the panic attacks that I’d started having in Law school that fall. I wanted to fix them and make them stop and my doctor told me that medication and therapy would help with that. My first therapist was a man named Benjamin and those sessions mostly were me kind of identifying what anxiety was, what a panic attack was, and how to fix them. We did breathing exercises, talked about nutrition and exercise to help, and I got anti-depressants and benzos. What a deal! I think the real benefit of these early sessions was just the learning of what I was dealing with. Panic attacks felt so intense and physical that it was strange to think that they were mental. Every symptom aside from racing thoughts manifested in physical discomfort, so it always felt like a physical ailment. Not a mental one.

I only worked with Benjamin for a couple months and stopped going. I did a short stint in 2007 in Cincinnati with a woman whose name I don’t remember. I was having my first ever depression symptoms and I recall her being very kind and kind of helping me through that summer. After leaving Ohio in 2008 I moved to Portland full-time and there I began to see a therapist named Devora. I saw Devora for the next five years. Once a week. For five years. When I first started out I was doing ok but still struggling with occasional panic attacks and general anxiety. It felt like pretty standard therapy, I wanted to feel better and we worked on things to do that.

Over the next five years my anxiety and the issues that came with it would come and go in waves. Some ok times mixed with lots of down times that were usually slow descents into full blown agoraphobia and depression. When I was really struggling our sessions became much more about getting through the day and week. Practical survival type stuff. When I was functioning better we worked on my feelings about my dad, grief, my weight, my health, my self-esteem, my dating life, my sexual life, my gambling, and so much more. I feel like my dad was atleast a good year of the therapy lol. I’ll touch on that more when I write about him.

Early on in therapy, I realized that I was often lying to Devora. I wanted her to be proud of me and think I was doing better than I actually was. I’m sure in some ways I wanted that because I wanted me to feel better about where I really was. I’m a people pleaser and I want people to like me and think I’m a good person. I believe at the time I thought if anyone knew how bad I was struggling or the things I was doing in silence, they’d think bad of me. I don’t remember if it was me consciously changing or just getting more comfortable being open with her, but at some point I started getting really honest. All my innermost and ugliest secrets and thoughts came out. Just complete brutal honesty. And Devora reacted to those conversations with the same genuine care, questions, and conversation that she did when I shared good news. It was a great realization to me that this therapy room with her was a completely safe space. That room and that relationship became easily the most open and honest place and relationship I’d ever had with a person. I had so much shame about a lot of things in my life and I can’t begin to tell you how much easier it was to carry that weight knowing I had someone there to help with it.

Devora moved in early 2014 and I remember the last few weeks of the therapy were processing the end of the therapeutic relationship. Now while I’d seen some great benefits from the therapy, I was still quite a mess. My anxiety issues were by no means fixed and I’d struggle with them mightily for a few more years. Devora referred me to a man named Andrew who I saw up until leaving for Louisiana Downs in 2015. Andrew was awesome and I left Portland doing pretty well. Well enough to think I could go to Louisiana. Hindsight, that wasn’t correct, oops. I’d struggle with my anxiety and depression more and more in 2016, 2017, and into 2018. I didn’t seek help though. And more importantly, I didn’t try to reverse the course or use the skills I’d learned. I just kind of mired in my sadness and existed at a pretty low level in most avenues of my life. I didn’t see friends. I didn’t date. I didn’t travel much. My weight ballooned.

I finally started to work to make changes to my health, my anxiety, and my life in mid 2018. It actually started with a friend suggesting a “saratoga steps” contest on twitter, where we tried to get 10,000 steps a day every saratoga race day and each time you did that, you got entered into a drawing for free bet. It was a great motivator. I probably hadn’t taken ten thousand steps in a day in 6 or 7 years. No joke. The walking began my weight loss but it also improved my general stamina. I felt sturdier when I had to be in crowds which helped my nerves as I worked to be around people more often. I started dating a wonderful woman named Victoria who continuously pushed me to do activities and things out of my comfort zone. Which of course, expanded my comfort zone. It became a snowball effect. The more I did, the more I was comfortable doing more. A few months later was the Miami announcing trip I mentioned back in Journal 1 and I was off and running. What is interesting was everything that really helped with my turnaround were things I learned in therapy. The value of exercise on mental health. Exposure therapy (facing your fears, but at your own pace). Breathing exercises. Positive self talk. And the biggest realization was just accepting the anxiety was never going away but choosing to live my life in spite of that. And the more i lived it, the less of a problem it became.

I thought about going back to therapy when I got to Tampa last year. Just to have someone to work through all the new experiences with. But insurance got in the way, because mine essentially covers fuck all. But who knows, maybe this year when I go down there I’ll resume.

Since leaving therapy with Devora, her and I have stayed in occasional touch. I’ll send a Christmas note each year and the occasional life update. And sometimes just the occasional letter of gratitude. I feel like she was there for so many tough times, that I want her to at least share in the wins in life. I can’t say enough with how much the experience has helped me. I could write about the topic for days but I think now is a good time to stop. Everyone go get therapy!

August Journaling Day 6: Washington State

I figured this would be a good topic to follow up yesterday’s travel post with. Mainly because Washington State will always be my “home” and because now to go there, it requires travel 🙂 But I feel like home always has a big effect on people and so I think that Washington has shaped a lot about my outlook on life. Almost all of my family is from there and most still live there. My entire education was there. All of my memories growing up were there.

I do think that it took me leaving there to fully appreciate it though. As a kid visiting California and Arizona on vacation, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more than to leave Washington. After visiting in Chicago in 1995, all I thought about for going to college was that I was going to go to Chicago. I even applied to DePaul University with their Early Admission process cause that was where I wanted to be. Well when the time came to leave….I stayed. I went to the University of Washington. UW is a great school, but I think really I just wasn’t ready to leave home and move across the country. So I never truly left Washington until I was 25 when I went to Cincinnati and River Downs. But even through the years working in Cincinnati, I was still back in the Northwest in the wintertime. So right now is truly kind of the first time that I won’t be back in or near Washington for at least a good chunk of the year. Which kinda makes me sad.

One of my favorite things about Washington is how different it is in various spots. From the Ocean coast, to the cascade mountains, to the Seattle metro area, to the high desert, to the rolling hills in SE Washington, to all the other areas. It’s truly geographically diverse and if you took a week and just drove around the state, you’d have vastly different experiences each day. If you’ve never been to Washington and you had a week to visit, I’d spend a day at the following spots:

  1. Seattle
  2. Olympic National Park/Sequim/Crescent Lake/Hurricane Ridge
  3. San Juan Islands (Lopez Island is my fave)
  4. Leavenworth
  5. Mount Rainier/Mt. St. Helens
  6. Lake Chelan
  7. Yakima valley/Walla Walla

I could honestly list another ten places that are must visits, but that will get you started. It’s a wonderful state and I’m so proud to be from there. I’m going back in September for a few weeks and I cannot wait.

The last few years it seems like Seattle has gotten a lot of shit on the news and nationally. Protests, CHAZ (Remember CHAZ/CHOP!), Eric Johnson’s videos about the drug and homeless problems, etc. Is Seattle different than it used to be? Yeah, what city doesn’t go through changes. Is it worse than it used to be? In some ways sure, in others, no. Every time I go back it feels the same as it always does. I feel just as safe there as I do any major city. But really these are questions for people who live in the city, I always lived in the burbs or out in the sticks.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten very romantic about Washington. It’s certainly nostalgia but it’s also just a very great place. I have pictures in my mind of certain parts of the state that pass through my thoughts all the time. Thinking of home just gives me a warm feeling no matter where I’m at. Even if I’m loving where I’m at like Tampa, I’ll still think happily about Washington. This past winter when we had a couple gray days in Tampa, everyone was complaining. To me it felt like home and it was remarkably comforting. The weather up there has never really bugged me and cozying up on a gray Washington day is my idea of fun.

I don’t know when I’ll get to live in Washington again. If I keep my same career for the next twenty years, I likely won’t get back there until my retirement. My retirement goal is to have a small place near or in Sequim up on the Olympic Peninsula. I like to imagine taking walks near the water, playing golf at Sunland Golf Course, and getting cheap buffets and playing simulcast at the Seven Cedars Casino. Sounds like a good retirement to me.

The Olympic mountains overlooking beautiful Sequim, Washington (Photo by Barbara Livingston) (Just kidding I took it)
The Cle Elem River in Central Washington (Photo by me again, good lighting huh?)

August Journaling Day 5: Travel

So funny enough, I’m writing this on a morning where I’m going to take a little day trip. Feels so apropos. I feel like my relationship with travel has been a true love/hate/love experience. When I was a little boy, we usually took one plane trip vacation most years. I remember going to Disneyland a couple of times, but mostly we went to spring training for baseball in Arizona every March to see the Mariners. As a kid my favorite part of the trip was the flight. I have always had an obsession with maps and I would study them before any trip. I’d try and memorize what cities or mountains were where and when we’d fly down I’d bring my atlas along and try to guess what each city below us was. I loved the takeoff, I loved the view, I loved all of it. Up until the age of 15, all my travel was exclusively in the West. Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona I believe were the only four states I visited up to 15. Then came Chicago.

When we were 15 our select baseball team finished second in the CABA regional tournament. A win in the tournament would have sent us to Crystal Lake, Illinois for the finals. Our team had travelled within the state and even to Vancouver BC for tournaments, but never anything too far. As luck would have it, one of the teams that qualified couldn’t make the trip so we got let into the tournament. I remember the first thing I thought when I heard the news was that I was going to get to ride in a plane for four hours AND go to the top of the Sears Tower!

Me and my best buddy Chris in Chicago playing ball in 1995

That trip was incredible. It was like a 24 team event and we won the consolation bracket, so we played all the way until the end. I got to go to the Sears Tower and the John Hancock building observation decks. I couldn’t believe how much I loved Chicago. It was so different and so big. Throughout high school and college I was able to travel a decent amount. I got to go to NYC in 1999, San Diego that same year, and back to Arizona Spring Training in 2001. But something happened on the flight home from Phoenix.

We were flying over Utah I suppose (lots of red rocks below us) and there was a strange smell in the cabin. The lady next to me started to get nervous and so I followed suit and got antsy. There was nothing wrong with the plane but in my head I started to get worked up. When we landed I was exhausted because I’d spent the last 90 minutes worried we were going to crash. Two months later on a flight to Las Vegas for my 21st birthday, I was nervous again. Only this time I could legally drink away the fear. Unfortunately that weekend I drank away much more than fear, so by Sunday when we were to fly home, the thought of booze was revolting. Our plane took off and as soon as we cleared the mountains to the West of Sin City, the plane felt like it dropped 500 feet. I immediately clutched my seat as did the elder lady next to me. Her and I looked at each other, sure that we were each going to be the last person either one saw before the crash. Turns out it was just the pilots letting off the engines a bit once we’d gotten to a certain altitude. But I spent the rest of the flight with my eyes closed and a total nervous wreck.

I got off that flight on May 20, 2001 thinking “boy am I glad I won’t have to fly again anytime soon.” I graduated college that next year and took a year off and went to Vegas eight times. I drove or took the train every time. It was twenty hours door to door. Usually stopping in Redding or Sacramento on the way down. My fear of flying became extremely intense and just the site of a plane or thought of being in one would make my palms sweat. A couple years later I had my first diagnosed panic attack and travel of any kind stopped for a few years.

Other than going to River Downs in 2006 and 2007, and Louisiana Downs in 2015 for like three months, I stayed exclusively on the West Coast from 2003 to 2018. I didn’t travel much at all. Went to the Oregon coast a few times, but mostly I stayed wherever I was. I remember making that drive to Louisiana Downs in 2015 and when I mapped out my route, I wrote down every small town that had a hospital along the freeway in case I flipped out and needed to go in. When I was in Louisiana I really didn’t do any travel on off days. I stayed in my apartment. My anxiety stayed bad. And I came home. 2008 to 2018 was the ‘hate’ portion of the love/hate/love of travel. But I didn’t hate travel. I hated my anxiety and I let my anxiety dictate that I was unable to travel.

Going to Gulfstream Park West in 2018 was such a monumental step in my life. I wrote about the call with my mom from there in yesterday’s blog and that was part of it. But on that trip I also saw a ton of stuff on off days and really found my love of travel again. Since that trip I’ve driven cross country 6 times. I’ve gone different routes each time. I’ve been up and down the entire eastern US. I’ve now been to 47 of the 50 States. I somehow missed Rhode Island when I was in New England and have yet to make Hawaii or Alaska. I’ve been to 47 of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country (missing Charlotte, Raleigh, and Providence). I’ve gotten to several Major League ballparks like Yankee stadium, Fenway Park, Camden Yards, and of course everyone’s favorite Tropicana Field. Have tried the best BBQ in places like Kansas City, Eastern North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Austin, and others.

I really love getting to see the country like I have. I actually look forward to the cross country drives every time. Disappearing into my car for 4 or 5 days, listening to music, eating junkie road food, staying in small towns like Chamberlain, South Dakota or Dothan, Alabama. Eating at the Big Steer in Altoona, IA or Big Bob Gibsons in Decatur, AL. I love getting to have little experiences in all these places. I love when I see or hear a story about a town or place and I can instantly recall a memory in my head of being there or driving through. I love that I have friends in so many states that I can pull over with and have a meal as I pass through. Travel has been one of the great blessings and joys of my life.

In the next ten years I’d love to see Alaska, Quebec, the maritimes in Canada, and maybe go to Europe. Of course, there’s that pesky fear of flying. I did finally get in a plane, albeit a seaplane, in 2019. You can watch the video about that HERE . That experience went pretty well. I was nervous for sure, but I feel like the monkey is off my back. I’m hoping in the last half of 2021 here that I’ll make a flight somewhere on a real airline. Something short. But if my battle with panic attacks taught me anything, it’s that exposure to your fears is really the only way through the fear. And I’m actually excited about the idea of taking that flight because I know the feeling at the end of it will be one of pride and satisfaction. Or a quick death if the plane goes down.

August Journaling Day 4: Mom

This could be the easiest entry I’ll do all month. I could sit here and write 30 minutes of praise for my mom any day and every day. She’s always been the most important person in my life and for 42 years has shown me nothing but caring, compassion, love, and every other good word there is. Eight years ago when I wrote my book, I dedicated it to my mom. I also wrote about her at the end of the acknowledgments.

Eight years later those words are all true, especially the last four.

As i said, I could go on and on and sing my moms praises. But I want to share a couple stories instead, both of phone calls. One good, one bad. The bad one was from Kentucky Derby Day of 2008. I was very depressed. Despondent might be a better word. I was laying on the floor between races at River Downs sobbing on top of an air mattress I’d bought because I didn’t have the energy to even sit up between races. I went to the hospital and called my mom. I told her I needed to come home. But I was terrified to go home. I was in a phase of panic disorder that I wasn’t really functioning and driving across country seemed impossible. Heck, leaving the hospital had me terrified. I was 27 and my mom left the business she ran that night to fly over to Cincinnati, help me pack, and drove me across America back home. It’s embarrassing typing that now. But I was completely powerless and incapable of doing it alone. She never hesitated or balked at helping me. Her selflessness for her children knows absolutely no bounds. And believe me, during the anxiety years, she got a lot of those “I can’t do it anymore” calls. I have to imagine at certain points she had to have had enough of my struggles. But she never showed that to me.

The good phone call was November 14, 2018. Now I’ve written about this before HERE, but I’ll tell the boiled down version now. I had just finished my first day announcing in over three and a half years. I had driven from Seattle to Miami to do it. I was beaming with pride when I went to call her after the races. She answered and when I went to tell her how great the day was, I started crying. I did manage early on to tell her “this is a good cry”, but after that, it was mostly just tears and wails. She just kept saying “get it all out. Get it all out.” And I did. Maybe the most cathartic emotional release of my life. And I really can trace alot of the good things that have happened in my life and rebuilding it back to that day. That was the first ‘win’ in a while. When I got the call that I’d been hired at Tampa, the first person I called was my mom. I figure I owe her first dibs on the good calls since she was always first for the bad ones.

I remember Howard Stern talking about setting up a camera at home and interviewing his parents. In part to have a document of their story for his kids, but also to really be able to ask them questions about their lives. That’s something I’d love to sit down with my mother and do. Similar to my Grandparents that I wrote about the other day, I’ve only known her as my mom. As we’ve both gotten older I do think I’ve learned more about her as a person as opposed to “mom”. I’d be very curious to really sit down and ask her about her childhood. About her friends. About her marriage to my dad. Their divorce. About me and my sister. About her proudest moments. About her darkest moments. Her successes and struggles. I’m looking forward to September to have some time at home and spend time with my mom. I haven’t seen here since last November which honestly might be the longest time I’ve ever not seen her. She’s the best. Just the best.

August Journaling Day 3: Work

I realized after writing down my list of 31 topics that I wanted to journal about during this month, that there’s going to be some overlap between some of them. Today’s topic of work I suppose could overlap with the following topics: money, horse racing, and broadcasting. However I think I want to write more about my thoughts on work and the place that occupation holds in my life.

Oddly enough I think the topic that work might overlap with the most is self-esteem. Maybe self-identity is more correct though. Something I’ve really tried to work on in the last couple of years is trying to separate my self-esteem and identity from my work. For YEARS I always thought the only thing interesting about me was that I had kind of a fun and unique job. I would lead with it in conversations or introductions almost exclusively. It became my identity, Jason the Horse Racing Announcer. And often that worked because to this day, I’ve never told someone I’ve just met what I do for work and not had them react either very curious or very interested that somebody does that for a living. If I’d have just introduced myself and started to make conversation about other stuff, I never believed they’d find me interesting or worthwhile to talk to.

Appropriately enough that attitude started to change for me when I got out of announcing. In 2015 I left Louisiana Downs due to issues with anxiety and depression and I went back to Seattle completely unsure of what I’d do. I think I had maybe $6,000 to my name and a hefty student loan payment and a car payment, so not working wasn’t an option. So I started applying for jobs in almost every industry there was, most of which I had no qualifications for. My skillset that I’d developed was pretty useless outside of horse racing. I remember once telling an employment advisor when asked what skills I possess that “I call a pretty good post parade.” She looked at me stunned about my answer.

As I was looking for a job though, I realized that I drove a Prius and maybe driving for Uber would be an option? So I applied to be a driver, put a new set of tires on the car, gave it a good detailing, and within a week, I was an Uber driver. When I was in Portland announcing I’d picked up a side job through a friend doing food and health safety audits at grocery stores and restaurants. So I emailed them and told them any extra work they had I’d take it. I had assumed that my career in horse racing was done since I’d now left two announcing jobs due to mental health struggles, so until I found a new job or new path, this was what I was going to do.

There were times I liked doing Uber. During that time I didn’t like to leave the house much or be away from my car, so this allowed me to go out and see the world and interact with people without having to leave my car. My weight ballooned again because I was eating pizza or Dick’s Drive In most meals and sitting all day. But I was making a living. The bills I had were getting paid and I was fortunate enough to be able to stay with family rent free while I figured out my plan. I was making 400 to 500 a week doing Uber and another couple of hundred from the auditing job. I did that for seven months and during that time I applied for a few announcing jobs that came open and never got a sniff. I was very resentful about it but hindsight I’m actually very glad I never got them because I would have just imploded again.

I think the most important things that those seven months of ubering and auditing taught me about work was that 1) I can survive and could support myself even when my foundation was pretty shaken. And 2), what I do was not as important as how I do it. For a while doing Uber and the audits I felt down about myself. Like I had failed my true career goals and that I had wasted my abilities because I couldn’t keep my anxiety issues together. But as I did them more I also began to take pride in doing a good job. In being a good driver and someone the passengers could feel safe with and trust to get them there and be friendly. I think by the end I was a good Uber driver. I think my rating was like 4.82 or something?

I was hired by BetAmerica to do a daily podcast in January 2016 and I was making enough of a salary to live off of and enough to where I could quit Uber and the audits. But I actually kept ubering for the next couple years. Maybe just one day a week or so, but I really liked it at that time. When I was hired to fill-in at Monmouth in 2019, which was my first announcing job since 2015, I Uber’d all my free time those months before leaving to help save up for the trip over there and the expenses that would come with living on the road. I gave my last ride in April of 2019 and did my last audit around that time as well. But I try and hold on to the lessons I learned during that time that my job doesn’t and shouldn’t define me.

I’ve been fortunate in the last few years to get some great work opportunities and part of that success has been reminding myself to be grateful of the opportunities, but to not get too invested in what they represent. I’m proud sure, but calling races or calling at bigger tracks shouldn’t make me think any different about myself as a human being than if I was ubering or doing audits. Will tackle that more on the Self-Esteem blog later this month.

Me at work!

August Journaling Day 2: Grandparents

Today’s topic is one I was excited to write about and that is my grandparents. Of the original four “blood” grandparents, only my grandpa Carl (mom’s dad) is still alive. However because my Grandma Sharon (Mom’s mom) was fond of nuptials and weddings, I do have a couple bonus grandpas! I’ve reflected quite a bit on my grandparents in the last couple years after the death of my Grandma Beem (Dad’s mom) in 2020. She was probably the grandparent I was closest with and saw the most regularly since she lived very close by.

At Granda Beem’s funeral in September of 2020 my cousin Madeline had made a tribute video for the service. It was filled with photos of Grandma Beem (her name was Gladys) from her childhood in Papillion, Nebraska during the 1920s and 30s, all the way up to her final days in 2020. What struck me so much watching those photos go by was how little I ever thought or realized about my grandparents when they were young. What I mean is, I only knew them for the Grandma/Grandpa portion of their lives. I knew them as old people! Seeing those photos made me truly appreciate the entirety of my Grandma Beem’s human experience. That she was once young. Once in school. That she had dreams like every young person does. That she had a first job and a first kiss and a first plane ride.

As a kid I always loved to ask my Grandparent’s about their lives when they were younger. About where they grew up, about the wars that both my Grandpa’s fought in. About places they travelled. About my parents when they were kids. But seeing those videos of my Grandma Beem made me truly wish I had asked her more about her life beyond what I knew. I always made a point to call my Grandma Beem at least a couple times a month as an adult. Whenever I would drive cross country I would always call all my grandparents just because it was such a good time to catch up and they always seemed to like to hear of my travels. Whenever I’m in the South I call my Grandpa Carl because his wife Mary Ann is from Alabama. When I was in Savannah a few weeks ago I called her and we talked all about how great Savannah is (it’s really great, visit if you get a chance.)

My Grandpa Beem died when I was thirteen and was really my first experience with death. I still remember my mom picking me up from 7th grade basketball tryouts and telling me that he had died suddenly at age 73. I remember my dad and Grandpa Beem had had a dumb little spat shortly before his death and hadn’t talked for a few weeks which I know hurt my dad a lot. My Grandpa Beem taught me how to fish and golf and was always such a fun grandfather. One of my best and last memories with him was the summer of 1993, just a couple months before his passing, he took me up to Twin Lakes in Northeastern Washington to go fishing for a week. We always used to go to the cabin at the lake every year, but we went as a huge extended family. This time it was just me and Grandpa Beem.

Grandpa Beem worked his entire career for United Airlines but I honestly don’t know exactly what he did there. My Grandpa Carl worked for NASA and Boeing as a mathematician. He tutored math in his retirement for many years after that. Such a smart guy and a superbly kind man. They moved to the San Juan Islands in the mid 90s and they have this great little house that sits on a cliff and overlooks the water and the Ferry path. I try and visit when I get a chance and hope to again this fall.

My Grandpa Burr (Mom’s stepdad) also deserves a mention because he was also a great Grandpa to me. I believe he’s 6’6″ or so and was always such a gentle giant. He had a son later in life named Zach and Zach is like 6 months older than I am, yet he’s my uncle. He loves to refer to me as his nephew even though we graduated high school the same year haha.

Overall, I feel as though I was blessed with amazing grandparents. They always were excited to see me, to go to my sports games, to hear from me on a phone call, and to tell me about their lives when I inquired. They were and are links to our family history and even in death, I hold memories of them very close to me.

Me and Grandpa Beem at “the lake”
Grandma and Grandpa Beem.