I had planned for weeks to go to Seattle to walk in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Puget Sound Sunday June 5, 2011. My team was the Hadassah Heelers. This is the story of my vegetarian weekend.
To begin I lined up friends to help me accomplish this. Thanks to J. P. for taking my dog for 4 days, B & W. D.’s family for not just putting me up (and up with me) but, taking me with them to a truly enjoyable Shabbat dinner with their friends, the Hadassah Heelers, and friends with general emotional support.
I arrived in Seattle Friday afternoon. Driving is exhausting for me. Especially, when driving by myself for several hours at a stretch. B. and I go shopping to pick up a few items for the Shabbat dinner. It is supposed to be a BBQ. Perfect weather for it. Not just perfect for Seattle but, anywhere really. As we are wandering through the store I tell her how much I love BBQ’s meat. I probably said it a few times that I was so looking forward to some really good BBQ’s beef. She knew what all the guests were bringing. You know Julie-flowers, Ralpha-pasta, David-salad, and so on.
When we arrived at B & W’s friends I was immediately introduced to a lovely group of people. I had lunch around 10:45 a.m. at some nondescript Mexican diner off I-5 North. Pretty bland. Quick service. But, not good food. Dinner isn’t until around 7:00 p.m. Food, I need food! I say, “Hello. It’s nice to meet you.” and add my usual disclaimer, because it is true, “Please do not be offended if I forget your name and have to ask it.” The usual and readily accepted response, “That’s ok. Happens to me, too.” Whew, done with that. I am now more comfortable in this new environment. Not comfortable. But, less anxious. I wait, observe, try to take the measure of the group. It did not take long before myself and the rest of the guests found our way into conversation.
Simultaneously while conversing with the other guests and my friends, in my head I was really looking forward to meat. In my head there is always at least one or two other conversations between me-rational, me-hungry, me-anxious, me-afraid, me-and me. In short all the different aspects of me inside my head. It is a very crowded stage. One of the ongoing internal conversations was about what BBQ means. Meat. Being a Shabbat dinner I had already discounted any possibility of baby-back ribs, or any other pork product. That left a pretty simple yet, expansive possibility of menu. The basics, hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, brisket, steak. In other words MEAT! Drool.
I am a dedicated carnivore. I am expecting meat. Of course, I expect and want some salads, lettuce, pasta, potato, macaroni, or other salad are fine. I love a good Best Foods/Hellman’s mayonnaise pasta, potato, or egg salad. These were part of my ongoing expectations and internal conversations. The hungrier I got the more I fantasized about meat, juicy beef bursting with pink juices and a little salt to bring out the flavor of the beef. I wonder what kind of marinade they use? Will it be bottled, bottled with their own tweaks, or something they made up themselves, or maybe something they found on the web or Food Network? Chicken would have been acceptable. I totally expected some of the other stuff (salads).
By this time we were all introduced to one another and to the various veggies, salads, and other items put out. As hungry as I was I am conscientious that I am nearly visibly, salivating. I imagine I looked quite like a bear about to pounce on its catch. My total focus was now on the BBQ chef. What wonderful culinary creation would he present to us? I am dreaming about one-inch thick rib-eye steaks with sizzling fat at the edges turned dark brown from the flames liking at it. Which is what I wanted to do. Lick the big beefy, meaty ribs, hamburgers, or all beef hot dogs browned crispy on the outside and bursting with juices as my fork audibly popped into the casing. The juices flowing up around the tines of the fork as if the juices were trying to fight with and lift the fork out of its substance to float on the surface like a log on the ocean. I am too powerful. I know my fork will pierce the skin all the way to the plate. Clunk! Only to be followed by picking it up and putting it in a split bread bun with mustard and maybe onions. Of course, I am salivating with these dreams bouncing around inside my hungry, food starved brain. My hungry tummy is an animal unto itself.
At last, Jason, the host and chef, made a wonderful flourish and brought out a large rectangle of crumpled aluminum foil on a board. Crap. I knew what that was. It was not meat. Not my kind of meat. Nestled snuggly inside the foil is a beautifully browned and blackened BBQ salmon. It was beautiful with the pink of the fish flesh peeking through the cracks in the BBQ’d skin. I waited. I thought after the presentation of the main protein there would be one more option.
The salmon appeared to be perfectly cooked. I hate fish. I hate salmon. Scales and I do not agree. Shellfish is another matter entirely. I do, however, know absolutely when it is cooked right and what it ought to taste like and what are good herbs, sauces, and slatherings. I don’t care. It matters not to me if that salmon was caught fresh out of the icy waters of the Copper River, or the green cold Kenai River, the combat fishing between mosquito, Grizzly, and humans fishing shoulder-to-shoulder on the Russian River, off the beach at Homer, or Seward. I do not like salmon. Of course, there was no way Jason would have known this. But, I felt so deflated. Disappointed. I nearly cried. I waited. Held my breath. Don’t cry. Maybe he’ll bring out a few burgers or hot dogs. NO.
But, I did not let on. I ate the salads, and drank my water, and had stimulating conversation with a diverse group of well-educated, thoughtful, people. All in all it was a good night. I was ready for bed shortly after we arrived back at B& W’s home. Feeling a little empty. Knowing I would have another opportunity Saturday evening at the Hadassah Heelers BBQ.
B’s mom, wanted to take us to lunch Saturday afternoon. I absolutely wanted to see her Mom. I have fond memories of her from my childhood. So, B., her MOm, and I went to a very good Indian restaurant. I love Palak or Saag Paneer. Vegetarian lunch. By choice, I might add.
That evening B. and I are attending a BBQ at J.B.’s very expensive home for the team walking in Sunday’s Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Puget Sound. The BBQ doubled as the installation of the new Regional Council, as well. J.B.’s backyard had several tables of 10 set up. She has one of those outdoor cooking/BBQ stations on her back patio. Expensive. Must be nice. Not that I will ever know. It was beautiful. There were three caterers/assistants.
The salads were plentiful. I had told B. on the way over not to be surprised if I make her stop at McDonald’s or Wendy’s on the way home if there is no meat. We laughed. Really, twice in two days? It was not likely. Yeah, right, sure.
There were many wonderful salads. An excellent Caesar, a large mushroom-feta-? salad, pasta salad. There were baby red and Yukon boiled potatoes with olive oil and parsley. And the staple Garlic Bread!
Once all the salads were set out on the party counter there was a big to do about what was coming out next. We were all expectant and waiting for J.B. to make her entrance from inside her home over the threshold to the back yard grilling patio. What will it be? Oh my, I am hungry. I am decidedly not a vegetarian. Yet, I have, in almost two days, had no meat. This is a tragic aberration in my life. As I and the group are waiting for J.B.’s entrance, B. and I look at one another. She in amusement and curiosity. Me at her in fear.
From the group of about 50 grows a noise of appreciation. Lots of “Oh my’s.” and “How wonderful.” and “I love that.” I am looking at another foil sheet on which lays a beautiful long pink SALMON! Oh…..my…..god. Again. Of course. It only figures. Why not?
I look at B. and the look of barely restrained guffaws she is looking at me. I am looking back at her with a dejected, and nearly tearful, partly laughing expression. We look at one another for a full minute. B. trying not to let the laughter explode and me trying not to let the tears fall among the expected laughter at the situation.
I ate lots of Caesar salad and potatoes. Not to mention garlic bread. Thank god for dessert. Sugar always makes things better. Unless, you are pre-diabetic and should not have it. But, I overcome my sensible self with very little, ok, no apprehension and have a piece of chocolate ice cream cake topped with Almond Roca. Really? I am supposed to resist this? Not an f-ing chance.
It was a very good time. New women to meet. All of us getting our Hadassah hats and visors making sure those who did not register early enough getting their official Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Puget Sound shirts and Bib numbers. I had registered early enough I received my shirt and bib number in the mail a couple of weeks before. I had gotten it so far in advance I was regularly afraid I would forget this package. I put it on the stairs up to my bedroom. Just in case I forgot it was visible. I did not forget. Another, Whew.
So, my vegetarian weekend continues.
The morning of the race, my first time ever, I am in a carpool. I am not driving. I leave that to the person who best knows Seattle. I had for this entire time from the moment I decided to go that I was going to finish even if it was last. I do walk every day. But, not that far. And, not with that big a group.
We all get to the race stating point. The Hadassah Heelers got into the middle of the mass of people. One of the women was an elderly person with a walker. She expressed her fear of walking alone. She knew she would be slow. I told her I would walk with her. I know how emotionally painful it is to walk slower than everyone else. All you ever see is their backs walking away. I had plenty of that over the past 30 years. And it hurts.
So, the race starts. She and I begin almost immediately dropping back. We did pretty well for the first quarter of the race. L. is a talker. She does not stop. She is shorter than me. So, to hear her above the din of noise I have to lean over. This hurts my back. We talk about small things. There is a lull in our conversation as we get into a rhythm. At least, that is what I thought. It was just a lull. L. decides since she is a life long Seattle-ite it is her job to give me the tour of downtown Seattle. Each time she points to this building or that building her walker veers to that side where her hand came off the handle bar. We are swiftly falling far back from the pack. Each time her hand comes up I have to redirect her forward. After about 20 minutes of this tour I explain that, “It is not necessary to give me the tour. It is kind of you. But, I am afraid it is causing us to fall too far behind.” I offended L. She thought I wanted to hear all the history not fit to print. So, we have not only gone to the back of the pack. We have lost it entirely. Now, L. must pee. this is not so bad. But, she picks the seediest bar, which she has to tell me the history of. Which, of course, I could not listen to. It took her only a few minutes. I waited outside. Worrying that we would never catch up. I was right to worry. By the time we got within sight of the main mass of walkers they were starting their turn at the half-way point to return. I admit I was anxious and probably walked too fast for her. So, I slowed down. I had joked repeatedly that I did not care if I finished at the back of the pack, as long as I finished. I was pretty sure I meant that as long as I was walking at my own pace. But, I promised L. I would stay with her. So, we made the turn at the half-way point. Moments after that one of the volunteers let us know that they were picking up the orange cones and the police were pulling out. Traffic was being restored to its regular pattern. Did I forget to tell you that the entire route was downhill. That is until the turn around at the half-way point. That is when L.’s huffing and puffing markedly increased. We had made it a hundred feet uphill. She assured me as long as she stopped to breathe she would be fine. Trouble was her stops became ever more frequent to the point that more breathing stops were being made than steps.
I realized she was not going to make it. No matter how many times she huffed breathlessly that she never failed to finish something she had begun. Yeah. Right. Sure. She was not going to finish this race. Finally, sitting on her walker seat she admitted she was not going to make it. I found one of the last, if not the last, volunteers on the route. All orange cones were gone. Cars were driving on the street that was 20 minutes before a sea of pink shirts. The volunteer used her walkie-talkie to find a driver of a truck to come pick up. L. As soon as I was assured L. was safe and would be borne back to the Seattle Center I began to walk up hill.
This was on the now, used sidewalk. I was determined to catch up to the pack. I did not want to be dead last. I don’t care what I had been saying. I wanted to catch the F up! I began walking uphill faster than I had thought I could. I was now race-walking. My arms pumping, my legs beginning to exhaust. But, I am going to catch up. I am determined. Unfortunately, the street lights were against me. I realized that with the traffic returned to normal I had to pay attention to the “Walk/Don’t Walk” lights. And they said “DON’T WALK” But, I WANT to WALK!! I am losing the pack. I am never going to catch up. I will walk faster. Drink. Step. Walk. faster. Pump the arms. Don’t slow down. Don’t let the tired muscles in the legs win. Don’t alter even though the knees want to collapse. Ultimately, about two-thirds into the race I see the police car behind the race support truck picking up the final orange cones. I cannot yet see the other walkers. I am getting closer. Keep walking, keep walking, keep walking. I WILL catch UP. I WILL CATCH up. I Will Catch
up. Shit. I am tired. I am not giving up. So what if I finish last. I will just keep pushing myself up this damnable hill. Finally, I see the pack. I am in sight of the back of the pack. Crap. I lost them. Am I even on the right path? I think I am. Without the orange cones I am not sure. I keep walking. Fast. Breathe. In the nose out the mouth. Breath In the nose OUT the mouth. Breathe. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Breathe. Don’t stop. I am going to make it. I AM going to MAKE it. I AM GOING TO MAKE IT DAMNIT!
I do not give up. I do not stop. I do not quit. I keep going. I keep my eyes on the service truck. The police have gone. I am close. I can see the water. I can see the street where we turned. I can just about see the Space Needle. I know I am getting close. I just don’t know how far away I still am. I get to the bottom of this really steep hill. I see a few pink shirted women pushing baby strollers. I am behind the Moms with babies who needed to be fed, watered and changed. I just caught up to the stragglers of the stragglers. Thank god. I can make it. Can I make it? Can I make it up this hill? I have to. I am going to finish this. I will go a little slower up the hill. Sabra was giving out free hummus and baked pita chip packages. I took a few. Stuck them into my Camelback (saved my life) and forged up this hill that went nearly vertical.
I push. I stop. I breath. I push. I walk. Do not let my knees buckle. Keep me upright. Straighten up. Walk. Just walk. I am going to make it. I am at the top of the hill. I see NO ONE! Not one racer. Not a single pink shirt. I do see the metal barriers that directed the group out of the Seattle Center to start. I think the Finish line must be the Start line. I do not see it. I hear that damn loud noise of the announcers who pushed each of the walkers on at the beginning. I wish they would not be so loud. I cannot hear what they are saying over the pounding of my heart and the speed of my breathing. I don’t know what they are saying. What are they saying? I finally make out that they are talking about a walker. A single walker. I do not see who they are talking about. I keep looking and walking and pumping my arms. I am sure they are encouraging the last walker officially to finish the race. Not me. I hear them continue to urge the walker forward. “You are nearly to the finish line. Don’t stop. She looks tired and determined. Come ON WALKER NUMBER 6.8…..2……………” Wait a sec. My bib number is, I look down and pick up my bib to look at it. That is my number “6824!” They are urging ME on! ME!! I must keep going. I cannot see the finish line. I hear them saying something like “You are almost there. Just a few more steps.” I cannot see the finish line. I see my feet. I am looking at my feet. I only see the black top below my… wait. What is that? I see something blue under my feet. I see a lot of blue and holes and wasn’t that the blue mat I walked over when I started this walk? I hear the announcers now, cheering me, ME, ME ! YOU FINISHED! YOU FINISHED! YOU MADE IT! YOU FINISHED THE WALK! I cannot figure out where this came from. But, when I hear them telling me I finished I believe them. I push my tired, hot, weighty arms straight up into the air and yell, “I FINISHED. I FINISHED!”
I am nearly completely depleted. My heart is pounding. I am fighting with myself not to cry. I am so proud of myself for finishing. I FINISHED!!! I FINISHED LAST! That’s ok. I FINISHED!!! I swear I am so tired my whole body is shaking. For me race/speed walking is like someone else running a marathon. This was my marathon. I find the pink gazebos with the bagels and cream cheese. I grab a bagel without stopping I have to find my group. I cannot see the banner they carried throughout the Walk. I remember where we gathered and head in that direction shoving the bagel into my mouth. I tear at the packet of cream cheese even as I bite down on the bagel in my mouth. I need the cream cheese on the bagel. I think I see them. I am about to cry. Stop it. Do not cry. I will not allow myself to cry. I find them. I sit down. I am shaking. I finish my bagel with cream cheese. I drink from my Camelback. I am trying to recuperate from the stress.
The group is calm and talking in regular voices to one another. Laughing with one another. I realize they have been there for probably about half an hour waiting for me. I calm enough to grab a plate and take some of the left over Caesar salad from J.B.’s BBQ the night before. Some mushroom salad, too. Someone brought egg salad. I sit again. I start eating. I realize I can take off my Camelback. I realize I have these packages of Sabra Hummus and Stacy’s Baked Pita bread in my Camelback Honcho. I tear it open and nearly drink the hummus. I am trying to stop shaking. I know my sugar is dangerously low.
I finally get calmed and my sugar level seems normalizing. L. shows up all happy and gives me a huge hug and tells me I am an angel. I feel like a heel. She tells everyone there how wonderful I am and that I am her personal Angel. I feel bad because I had been wishing I had not agreed to walk with her. At the same time I realize she would not have made it as far as she did had I not walked at her pace.
I walked with her because I too, have for decades walked slower than my family. I had severe arthritis in both hips. I now have titanium hips and a titanium plate in my cervical spine. I knew what L. felt. I did the right thing. I am glad I walked with her. It was hard. It was scary to be alone and fear that I was not going to make it to the end. But, I did finish. In a way so did L.