Thursday, October 2, 2008

O Brother, Where Aren’t Thou?

This is a piece about obsessions. I have a few (like writing for my blog) that often take me late into the night. I enjoy other things—editing video, writing music, and watching the Red Sox, to name a few. But I’ve never expected to win an Academy Award for editing a blockbuster movie, take home a Grammy for writing a number one hit, or throw out the first pitch at Fenway.

Enter my brother. We’ll call him Alan for purposes of this essay. I have no doubt that, if he pursued my favorite hobbies, he would have Oscars and Grammys on his trophy shelf next to a photo of him hurling a fast ball to Varitek.

You see, Alan doesn’t take up anything as a casual hobby. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth spending the effort to get it right and be the best. By the way, the various events I’m about to recount are not necessarily in sequence and I’m not claiming a high level of accuracy—they’re simply my recollections of what happened. Kind of like the movie as opposed to the book.

We’ll start with Alan buying a motorcycle. To be more precise, a motocross racing bike. We lived in the desert city of El Paso, Texas, and there were literally thousands of acres of free range on which to ride. Fun and relaxing at the same time. Not good enough for Alan. He prefers harrowing and death defying to fun and relaxing.

I remember going over to his house to see his brand new 125cc Honda Elsinore. This is a racing motorcycle that weighs next to nothing and develops about 20 horsepower. That may not seem like much, but if your 4,000 pound car had the same horsepower-to-weight ratio, it would be sporting 425 horses under the hood.

When I approached the garage, I heard the sound of a drill boring through metal. What the heck? Alan was drilling holes in the motorcycle. He was putting his dirt bike on a permanent diet. Hey, if 188 pounds is good, then 185 pounds must be better. I’m just glad that he didn’t take the same approach when he bought his first sailboat. More on that later.

Anyway, the first time I watched him compete in a motocross race, there were teenaged kids flying over the whoop-dee-doos and whipping around the hairpin turns. After the dust of these throw-all-caution-to-the-wind maniacs cleared, here came Alan bringing up the rear, keeping his bike firmly in contact with the ground at all times.

Fast forward a couple of months and it was my brother leaving a dust cloud for the other riders to eat. He was winning in his class and taking home the hardware for his trophy shelf to prove it.

This is how things went for years. Alan decides to lose some weight and takes up jogging. Six months later he’s running 5, 8 and 10-K races. Running takes a toll on his body so he tries cycling, turning into El Paso’s own version of Lance Armstrong, right down to shaving his legs to knock a few seconds off his 50-mile race time. I’m not thinking I’d be willing to shave my legs for any reason, which is why I’m relegated to being a hobbyist.

When my brother bought his first sailboat, I suspected that “fun and relaxing” would go overboard at the first tack. Sailboat racing not being a solo sport, Alan recruited his wife and two kids to crew for him. I was never there to watch this family bonding exercise in action, but I imagine that it produced some stressful situations from time to time.

The decision to move the sailboat from Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico to San Diego, California, was a logical one after having sailed every square foot of the lake on the Rio Grande. But the trip to San Diego was an indirect one. Wouldn’t it be more fun (read that death defying) to put the boat in the water in San Francisco and sail it down to San Diego? I’m pretty sure this was the trip that my sister-in-law puked her guts out while drafting a divorce decree on the last roll of toilet paper.

Alan is a true renaissance man. He served his tour of duty in Vietnam as a second lieutenant and left the Army as a captain. Graduating from college with an accounting degree, he passed the CPA exam and worked for a number of years in public accounting and private industry. He later returned to school to earn his teaching certificate and taught high school for over fifteen years. In the middle of his teaching career, he and his wife moved from El Paso to an 88-acre ranch east of San Antonio where they raise cattle, grow and bale hay, and care for their horses, miniature donkeys and several dogs. They both continued to teach in San Antonio until their joint retirement this past May.

Along the way, Alan brewed his own beer, spent three weeks roaming the countryside of Ireland, straddled his Gold Wing motorcycle on a 9,000 mile road trip, and developed the perfect .308 caliber round for ridding his ranch of destructive wild hogs. I must give huge kudos to Alan’s wife, Mary, who has supported him through this amazing journey. What a trooper she is.

A word about those wild (feral) hogs. There are millions of them trekking across South Texas, tearing up hay fields by rooting for onions and other delicacies lying just below the surface. This creates ruts that eventually render a hay field too dangerous to navigate with a tractor and potentially life ending for a horse or cow that breaks its leg stepping in a hole. The speed at which the feral hogs accomplish this is astounding. A single night in a field is enough to necessitate costly rehabilitation.

It’s the perfect setting for a new hobby (obsession). In a short time, Alan has become Gonzales County’s number one hog hunter and trapper, in demand by neighboring ranchers who were being overrun by these prolific animals of mass destruction. Equipped with a night vision scope similar to the equipment used by our Army Special Forces, a rifle with specially prepared rounds that shoots groups of three quarters of an inch at 100 yards, and five self-designed and built hog traps, my brother has logged over 250 hogs trapped or shot in a few short years. Move over, Crocodile Dundee.

My wife, Mary, and I will be heading down to Texas on our own two-week road trip this month. We look forward to spending time on the A. M. Hunt Ranch and sharing those experiences with everyone back here on the Cape via my edited video with an original music track. It may not win an Oscar or a Grammy, but you can be sure that making it will be fun and relaxing.

1 comment:

  1. Randy, I met your brother last week and would never a guest he was such an adventurist personality.


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