Feeling more a part of the singles’ world

Since summer, I have been slowly moving in a new direction, and only recently realized it. I’ve made several new friends — male and female — and all of them are single.

Sometimes, I feel bad that I only occasionally see my long-time, married friends. These are the people who were at my side during my husband’s sickness, the miserable first year  of widowhood and the unexpected, wretched open heart surgery. These are the folks who encouraged me to go to a movie or get a drink or take a hike when I felt low. They stayed positive when my life was most grim.

But now I see the process of moving away from the married couples and hanging more with the singles as natural and inevitable. I think they see it too. Heck, one married friend said she knew this would happen before I did.

The singles circles I find myself in lately are fun loving and seem to be enjoying themselves. I met most of them bike riding downtown and being introduced by them to other singles. A couple of the guys I met online, but there’s no romance, just friendships.

My book club now is more single than married. So is a book-to-movie club I joined this year. Almost none of the singles I’ve met are widows; all are divorced. But that is fine. Some of these singles have partnered up with other singles, but that doesn’t bother me most of the time.

My new singles world is made up of fifty and sixty somethings. They typically live in the city, are urban cyclists and often share the same city-based activities each week. The Detroit events are plentiful and varied and carefully posted on specific Facebook pages. Once I became Facebook friends with one of the singles, I’m being prompted to friend others in this crowd — even some I don’t know but have heard about.

In fact, sometimes it gets a bit incestuous seeing these same people at the same places. But it’s comforting as well. Gallery openings, concerts, new bar or restaurant reveals, organized bike rides and offbeat exhibitions draw this same group of singles. I could even attend this stuff by myself because there is sure to be someone I know. But I don’t; I’m still kind of hung up on going out alone.

What will happen over time with this? I don’t know. I suspect the infusion of older people moving to the city’s fast-gentrifying  downtown neighborhoods will continue. I hear people talk about how they sold the suburban family house, moved downtown and prefer the downtown lifestyle now.

I’m not sure yet, but I may try it eventually.

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When did covering a Presidential press conference become a bore?

I’m writing for a business magazine these days and have renewed energy for my profession. After trying to work as an automotive research analyst for the last three years, I’m back doing the kind of work that suits me best.

Recently, a situation presented itself that took me by surprise. At a brief editorial meeting, where the editors ask reporters what they have for that day and if they are available for quick-hit stories for the online publication, one of the editors asked the group “Who wants to cover Obama tomorrow?” Now, I sat there quietly thinking one of the regular beat reporters will jump at the assignment. Instead, the room is dead quiet.

I made eye contact with the editor and smiled. It was all I could do to not blurt out ‘I’d love to cover the President.’ But I didn’t need to, because I was promptly given the assignment. (It must have been the eye contact.) I was told I would need to take photos and tweet before, during and after the press conference. The tweeting part made me a tad nervous because that is a relatively new component of journalism since I was last a reporter. It’s now often part of the job, especially at press conferences, and makes being a reporter more difficult and stressful.

Still, I was clearly excited to handle this challenge. I had not covered a Presidential press conference since Ronald Reagan in Dallas in 1984. Do the math and you see it had been awhile.

Coincidentally, the President Obama press conference was at the Detroit area community college I attended what seems like 100 years ago. The focus of his speech centered on government providing two years of community college free to responsible students. So there I was with my computer, smart phone/camera, notebook, pens and presidential press credentials in a dark auditorium in the middle of the afternoon, not feeling all that confident. A large cluster of students got to stand and wait near the podium where the President would speak. Press was relegated to the back and sides.

The apathy concerning covering the President’s visit went beyond my newsroom. I saw that same level of jadedness among the dozens of journalists who were waiting two hours to see what, if anything significant, the President would say.

Once I set up at a long table between a couple of other reporters, I knew I had fallen behind with the new world order of technology. The auditorium was not wireless, so reporters plugged their phones into their computers to get on the web. I realized I left my phone cord in my car so I had to borrow one from a friendly reporter who knew one of my coworkers. I had to ask another reporter how to connect. Meanwhile, I tried to take a few photos of pro-Obama students who screamed (like at a rock concert) when the President appeared on a large video screen after landing at the airport. I used these photos in my tweets about —  well, not much. The photos were sub-par as my phone/camera does not work well in the dark.

With tweeting comes re-tweeting by co-workers and others who are now following me because I’m tweeting as part of a publication. The whole process can be made fun of, but it also is kind of fun.

I worked doggedly for hours to turn in the story by 7. The President was gracious, witty and eloquent. He pitched free community college as a way to lessen overall college debt for four-year students and to provide free job training for two-year students.

There was no ground-breaking news, but I still found the whole experience exhilarating. I’m sorry to see that the press is clearly ho-hum about the President, maybe because there’s no scandal with this guy. Overall, younger generations have seen so much calamity that it just takes more to get them excited.


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A widow’s escape: Slow Rolling in the D

The last couple summers, I’ve become infatuated with an event in my city called Slow Roll. It’s a weekly evening bike ride through the bedeviled and beautiful streets of Detroit, and now it is being duplicated in other cities and countries.

I’m writing about a bike ride in a widowhood blog because it has helped me deal with widowhood — and my periodic bouts of melancholy — like nothing else. This party on bikes, as some describe it, is the feel-good activity of the week. It makes Monday nights from April to October fun. Imagine that.

So why does this bike ride help? It gives me a slight connection to Tom, who would have loved it, both because he loved to bike and he loved Detroit. Sometimes when I’m riding, I feel his presence, but not in a creepy way. I feel like he is riding with me, providing witty commentary (My husband had a great wit.) about the skinny tattooed guys in front of me or the heavy-set woman biking nearby in high heels and a short, spandex skirt.

Slow Roll was founded in 2010 in Detroit by Jason Hall and Mike MacKool for the purpose of promoting bike riding, bringing people of every stripe together for a fun activity and exposing suburbanites and out-of-towners to a considerably decayed but re-gentrifying Detroit. It has accomplished that and much more. It provides this degree of good will I have never seen before.

I wasn’t aware of it the first couple years but I started going religiously last summer with a neighbor couple, who also think it’s a ball. I ride my bike a few blocks to their house, and they graciously hoist my bike on their rack. We head downtown and converge with 3,000 or 4,000 other bike riders to a part of the city that the Slow Roll leaders post on a web site each week.

The ride is 10 or so miles and, like happy lemmings, we follow the leaders who plan out the course in advance. Along the whole route, for the first time this year, we have Detroit Police blocking intersections and briskly patrolling along the route.

As we wind our way through the city’s maze of streets – too many of them desolate and decimated — dozens of bikes sporting snazzy stereo systems crank out R&B, hip hop, rap, funk, classical and pop to the delight (or dismay) of many of the riders. My favorite is when I’ve got Lil Wayne blasting on one side of me and Barry Manilow just up ahead. We also ring our bike bells at residents, particularly children, lining the streets waving and smiling.

Some riders drink beers out of paper bags and others covertly pass joints to fellow riders. Bikes range from the 1960s to the trendiest new bikes on the market today. And then there’s the wild-ass custom bikes and their owners who sometimes sport outfits that match their wheels.

I rode bikes for years with Tom, when few were doing it around here, but it was periodic. Lately, I’ve become enamored with bike riding and have stepped up my weekly mileage. My contentedness on a bike this summer has escalated. I feel unburdened, alive, part of something. I feel like a kid, and I know Tom would like that.

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Venting about relationships on a perfect summer night

I got socked in the gut the other day with a revelation from a guy I’ve been seeing for about three months. After hearing what was going on with him, I felt introspective and sad and wanted a strong drink. But instead I went to the learning center to fulfill my duty teaching reading and writing to my Hispanic student trying to pass the GED. On the same day, the Bluetooth in my new car wouldn’t work and I got a ticket.

When I pulled into my driveway, feeling teary-eyed and frustrated later that evening, I spotted my next-door neighbor, a single guy half my age who surprisingly has become a friend. He was getting ready to go into his condo when I yelled out to him “Could you check the Bluetooth on my Mini? It’s not working.” (This was not as random as it sounds because he’s a car guy, works for Audi.)

He said he’d be over in a few minutes. I went into the house and burst into tears and hoped he would not come over right away. But he was at the back door in no time, holding a gin and tonic and, upon seeing my crying, red face, asked me if I needed to vent. This was embarrassing as he has only seen me pulled together, logical and sensible. Clearly, my image was shattered.

But I couldn’t have been more in need of venting. First he looked at my car and determined the Bluetooth was likely faulty. After that, I made myself a scotch on the rocks, and we commenced to my deck. He also had brought over a pizza and a pack of cigarettes.

Now I don’t smoke, but cigarettes seem exactly right when life is shit. Such a perfect, silly rebellion. So I puffed on a few and told my neighbor the whole stupid story. I drove home the point that from the start this guy was evasive and dodged my questions, particularly those pertaining to relationships with women. I went with it thinking over time he would reveal more about himself. But it didn’t happen. Upon hearing the truth that afternoon, I was hurt, angry and disappointed.

My neighbor, too, was in the throes of discord with a woman he has been seeing for about three months. So, of course, I asked him how things were going. He gave me an update and also vented. More conversation and drinks ensued on this perfect summer Michigan night.

I felt better and I’m guessing he did too. I laugh about this unlikely friendship we have. We are different in so many ways, yet we share our experiences of being single and dating in hopes of finding a worthy companion.

I realize that if I was still married living in this house, I probably would hardly know my neighbor. It would be a simple wave, how are you, like I have with all my married neighbors. This unlikely friendship is a positive of being single and alone — clearly a silver lining.

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Despite age gap, relationships still as complex as ever

Millennials might be driving less and getting tattooed a lot more than their parents, but when it comes to relationship confusion, not much has changed.

I went to happy hour downtown recently with one of my widowed friends. She knew most of the crowd, but I had an opportunity to meet new people who live in the city. Conversation flowed easily among the group whose ages ranged from 2os to 50s.

I struck up a conversation with an attractive young couple at the bar. She was complaining that her martini was disappointingly too sweet; he was good with his bottled beer. When she got up to go to the restroom, I asked the guy, ‘So how did you two meet?’ “Online,” he said. “Tinder, actually.”

I know about Tinder from my daughter, who took me on a tutorial of it on her phone a couple of years ago. She explained the site is ideal for hookups because it is predicated on looks and geography. You file through dozens or hundreds of photos of people and their locales and, in the blink of an eye, can dismiss people whose looks you don’t like or reach out to someone you desire.

I have since learned it is not just a hook-up platform. I know a few Millennials who have met their current boyfriend on the site and don’t see it as tawdry.

The young woman came back to the bar and joined in on our Tinder conversation. It wasn’t quite the story I expected as she abruptly announced she and the guy next to her recently broke up. She explained things weren’t working out. In fact, he had the audacity to call her fat. (She’s not, but he’s reed thin.) Dismissing him with a wave of her manicured hand, she talked for 30 minutes about her love of horses. This included my favorite quote of the night: “I wish I could lock up men in a stall like a horse and only let them out when I want them.” At this point, her former boyfriend ( a lawyer lacking in personality) rolled his eyes at us.

We got a second beer and the conversation continued mostly about her high level of horsewomanship. In the small world department, we find out she knows my girlfriend’s son and really has the hots for him. “Give him my number. Oh wait, he already has it,” she said while flashing perfectly white, straight teeth and incessantly playing with her highlighted blond hair.

At that point, we had  had enough. The couple started talking about where they were going next. Dinner? Maybe. Another bar? Maybe. She said to my friend upon leaving, “Don’t forget to have your son call me.” They stroll out of the bar into the sunlit street looking very much like a couple, even though they reportedly are not.

So what was that? If they are broke up, why are they hanging out together on a Friday night? She was obnoxious, but clearly he still likes her on some level. Age doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to relationship distress. What it gets down to is people are searching for companionship in a variety of ways to avoid being alone, even if it might mean listening to a woman you broke up with talk about horses.

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In memory of Tom on Father’s Day — a bronze plaque

My husband loved our kids, he loved me and he loved sports and games — maybe in that order. He loved lots of other people and things as well, but with no particular ranking. This is a preface to what my kids and I did recently.

Tom never gave up the fight to beat brain cancer, but his brain and body would not cooperate. So despite his remarkable efforts and positive attitude, the disease rendered him unable to be logical over time. This meant he would rarely address the fact that he might not make it, so we never discussed his funeral wishes. A few times I almost went there, but it was too difficult.

When he died, the kids and I came up with a funeral we thought he might like. As it turned out, it was the kind of funeral I would like, but no regrets there as funerals are for the living.

I’m Catholic and I raised our children Catholic, so I had a Catholic funeral mass, a eulogy by his best friend (who did a tremendous job) and meaningful readings and hymns. Tom was agnostic, but was raised Catholic, so I figured he’d be good with what we planned.

The kids and I felt the funeral had just the right tone and so did family and friends. More than 500 people attended, and, afterward, we had a modest reception of beverages, cheese and fruit in the church basement. At night, we had a grand dinner with immediate family and best friends at a restaurant Tom liked. I knew for sure, he would have loved our gathering, and his presence was felt there.

Time moved along. I wanted to do a memorial of some sort and came up with a party at a friend’s bar or a chili cook-off (we hosted those regularly). But that first year, I could not move forward with either idea. I looked into getting a plaque to post at our city Little League fields, which happen to be a block from our house, but I wasn’t sure about it. Another year passed, but it still bothered me I didn’t do anything. I had to take action.

Tom loved baseball and coached Little League and Babe Ruth at our city fields  for 15 years. A whole group of boys my son and daughter’s ages grew up on those fields, some more talented than others. Tom, in his often loud, enthusiastic voice, taught them the finer points of baseball and good sportsmanship. He mentored some of the more troubled kids, and even the weakest player was encouraged.

Many of those boys are fine, young men now, and when Tom was sick, they came over to give him a baseball hat signed by as many of his former players as they could find. It was a touching visit.

Tom never gave up that passion for teaching and watching kids play sports. He coached our daughter in soccer and our son in hockey as well. A solid tennis player, he taught both our kids how to play the game well. Our daughter ended up playing high school tennis; our son played three varsity sports.

Often, before he got sick, he would walk up to the fields to see what was going on — catch a few innings of the games with kids now younger than his own. In the early months after his diagnosis, he was still able to walk around the neighborhood. Consistently, he went over to those ball fields and the tennis courts to check out what was going on. When he could no longer walk, per his request, I’d drive him around the park.

What I needed to do became crystal clear last fall.  I called my contact with our city foundation and ordered the bronze plaque. It was installed a couple of weeks ago on the brick column that marks the entrance that Tom and our son entered to go to practice and games. It looks perfect there.

Early summer 2015 011

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Leaving the corporate life behind

I resigned from my corporate job last week. Three years ago, shortly after I became a widow, I happily and thankfully accepted a writer, automotive research analyst position. It was a lifesaver for me emotionally because it provided a place to go each day, particularly in that first year of singledom. It gave me a reason to get up, get dressed and get out of my empty, sad house.

But the job was not right for me. My job title was only partly accurate — I wasn’t an analyst. I guess I did a few projects that utilized my writing skills, but, for the most part, I’ve struggled to understand the world of market research, its lingo, its acronyms, its seemingly illogical procedures.

I mostly felt inadequate working with analysts, many with graduate and doctorate degrees, who seemed so smart and proficient with writing surveys, designing complex research methods and adeptly using Excel and PowerPoint. These folks can take exhaustive data and insert it into perfectly crafted charts with lots of pretty colors and shapes. They talk about qual and quant and SPSS and SAS. There’s those scales of measurement that can be nominal or ordinal. In my defense, they have degrees in market research versus me with my journalism degree.

On the bright side, I had a very nice office with a view (of a freeway, but also well-groomed college soccer fields) on the 11th floor of an office tower in the Detroit suburbs (see below). I’ll miss it a bit. My office even had a door that I could close for complete privacy. Not many people in corporate America have that these days.

Late summer-early fall 2014 035

In a couple days, I will return to what I know – writing, editing, interviewing — in my home office (see below). I will slowly re-establish my editorial services company. This time I will have a good-looking web site and “brand” myself, which I’ve read is important now.

Late summer-early fall 2014 129

My daughter, who has been away at school for five years, is coming back to live with me while she student teaches. I’m looking forward to sharing the house with a family member again — maybe not so many dinners alone in front of the TV.

I have scores of plans for this next chapter: even more walking and biking, volunteering twice instead of once a week, writing more for pleasure, varied coffees and lunches with friends, stepped-up travel, maybe an adventure with homeexchange.com or renting furnished apartments to take extended visits in cities I like. I also might take my laptop and work a bit outside the house — a coffee bar, the library, who knows. I might get serious about selling my house and moving into something smaller with less maintenance.

I admit I’m a little nervous about this step. I gave up benefits (as of midnight Friday they vanished) and a sense of security. But it is a good time of year to resign. Spring has arrived, the buds are bursting from the trees, the tulips are up, and from now on, I can do whatever I want.

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