My Big Walkers

Day 337

MyBigWalk Takes on Branch Brook Park

Last week I walked in Branch Brook Park in Newark — the scene of three deaths in as many years — for my debut on our local news e-zine,  BARISTANET. “Is it Safe to Walk in Branch Brook Park?” drew 47 comments, many of them snarky, angry, and downright insulting. A few were kind and insightful, but they were overshadowed  by the mockery!

My piece began earnestly enough….

Is it Safe to Walk in Branch Brook Park? When I posed this question to my friends I’d been out of the country for three weeks. I’d missed the Dean Gaymon tragedy in Newark, and the ensuing stories about sex-trolling and other illicit activity in this 360-acre Essex County Park.  But a walker must walk – and so I set out at 11 a.m. on Friday the 13th with a map, my big dog, and my son John – a 16-year-old black belt who’s ripped, and knows it…

…but the Baristanet comments took aim from the get-go. Here are two of my favorites:

from scottaleh: “What a God-awful post! Is the premise supposed to be that, because Dean Gaymon was shot by police, anybody walking in Branch Brook Park is in danger of the same? Is the premise supposed to be that this beautiful park is dangerous to anyone walking at 11am on a summer day because it’s in Newark? And what the heck is the relevance of Route 280 and the Basilica being nearby? BTW, anyone who really wants to see drug paraphenalia (and therefore, “debauched nightlife,” I guess) can find it in Andersen Park, our local source for drugs. Yeesh.”

From croiagusanam: “But I know that the park is safe. I walked there every day after my month-long sojourn in Katmandu, accompanied only by my pedigreed Lithuanian bloodhound and my 16 year old daughter, who is SMOKIN’ HOT and knows it. We encountered actual people, doing actual things. I was flabbergasted. I asked Sheriff Lynch if he thought the place was safe. He couldn’t stop staring at my daughter. What a letch! Anyway, I’ll be posting every week now, so you can follow my adventures and those of my daughter (I’ll include some pix as well!).”


Never one to be daunted by a few crass remarks or unkind words, I returned to BARISTAVILLE last week, taking a few friends to the uber-suburban borough of Essex Fells and making as much noise as we could. Is Essex Fells safer than Newark? Is it more fun to walk in a dicey Newark park or a quiet-as-a-cemetary suburban enclave?

You can check out the original post, and YESTERDAY’S RESPONSE on Baristanet. And don’t be afraid to leave a comment there — God knows, everybody else felt absolutely fine about it!


Day 265

I lived in New York City HOW many years and didn’t  know this helpful tip from MyBigWalker Robin?

Follow San Remo Apartment Towers to GO WEST

Helpful secret I learned on a walking tour of Central Park: there are numbers embossed on the lampposts that indicate the nearest cross-streets–the first couple of digits tell you what the cross streets would be if they extended thru the park, and some are even marked with E or W.

I checked out a walking tour site, Forgotten NY / Street Scenes, and found this:

There’s really no excuse for getting lost in Central Park, if you know where to look.

Cast iron lampposts designed by architect Henry Bacon (who also designed the Lincoln Memorial) in 1907 are standard issue throughout Central Park, as well as in parks citywide. They occasionally even make appearances on side streets for atmosphere. For thicker, expanded versions of the Henry Bacon theme, check out the new lampposts along Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway, which used the Bacon posts as a template during the Parkway’s renovation in the 1990s. The distinctive new luminaires were designed by Kent Bloomer and Associates of New Haven, Connecticut.

For some years now, the city has marked most of Central Park’s lampposts with embossed numbered metal plaques. The first two or three digits correspond to the cross street you would be on if that street extended through the park. So, the post above is located where 61st Street would be.

The park’s 1960s-style octagonal poles
and Deskeys have been given the same treatment, as well as a green coat of paint (unique in the city). In addition to the cross street, some of them also bear a W, C, or E, corresponding, respectively, to the western, central or eastern part of the park.

Who knew?!

Day 243
What a night! It was hot and muggy, exhilarating and emotional. New York Times writer / blogger / survivor Dana Jennings’ inspiring opening remarks whooshed us right into a  a survivor’s lap around the track at Brookdale Park at 7:15 last night which for many — myself included —  was the most meaningful part of the first Montclair Relay 4 Life evening.

Survivors walked hand-in-hand with loved ones of all ages; a team of young people carried the official Relay banner , while our strong walkers Nanci, Alex, Elaine, Toni, and Donna carried the snap-looking MyBigWalk banner that was designed and painted by Lori Loehbelson.

Toni saw a small girl checking in as a survivor receive a pair of purple wings to affix on her tiny shoulders; Dana spoke about being a “sage warriors,” who “will not let cancer define us.” The survivor walk was led by a cadre of young people including a young man with huge black plugs in each ear and a funky purple bandana on his head, and after the first lap Toni — who is in her sixth cancer-free year — grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the track with her.

As we looped the stadium fellow relayers, supporters, friends and family, stood and clapped. For fifteen minutes. I’m sure Elaine, who has successfully completed  treatment for advanced breast cancer and is gearing up for her second big trip to Europe this year, spoke for many when she said the the survivor lap was “very surreal, emotional and moving.”

The night went very fast after the opening ceremonies. Everyone on our team was in great spirits and absolutely diligent about staying on the track for their hour and more. We had three tents, deluxe air mattresses, lanterns, a beautiful white canopy courtesy of Myla’s mom — an artist who lost the battle last July and for whom Myla’s entire family came out to honor —  not to mention food galore, beautifully coordinated by Martha.

As darkness fell, the luminarias that marked our path were illuminated, and I was able to find the many candles pledged by HarperCollins folks in memory of  c0worker and rock drummer Dave Campbell. My parents, Myla’s mom, Leslie’s husband, and many others were memorialized along the way.

Before I knew it it was time for my midnight lap with Toni, followed by my own solo lap. I say solo lap, but I was never alone. Frank, who’d already walked the 9-10 lap with David, walked with me. Soon David and Ellen were out there with us, too. It was a beautiful night of camraderie, remebrance, and celebration.

I crashed at 4 in the morning, just as Leslie was going out to do her lap. When I woke, Martha and Nanci had returned with coffee, and Alex, Frank, Myla, Lori, and Martha were busy taking down the banner and tents.

In the spirit of the evening, Elaine came to collect her air mattresses at 5:30 but didn’t have the heart to wake me, and so I ‘slept in’ until 6. Thank you, Elaine! Thank you Lori, Nanci, Alex, Leslie, Toni, Myla, Ellen, David, Frank, Martha, and Jenny, too.

The relay raised $110,000 for cancer research. With $13,153 on our ledger by 4 am, MyBigWalk was by far the biggest fund-raiser for this year’s walk (see Baristanet piece). Best of all, the night was everything we’d hoped for, and more.

Day 232

The Wall Street Journal reports “Phone Calls, Even Voice Recordings, Can Get People to Go to the Gym”


Based on a Stanford University study, even the simplest motivator/reminder helps people fulfill their personal workout commitments. Are you using MyBigWalk to get yourself motivated? Even more to the point, would you like a MyBigWalking Buddy? If you do, I can make it happen! Let me know by posting a reply.  And THIS IS YOUR GENTLE NUDGE, folks! Happy Monday.

Day 212

Man oh man, I love MyBigWalkers. Mighty Martha, who hails from Lee County, Virginia, can talk a blue streak that’ll challenge any Southern raconteur.

Martha Doesn't ALWAYS Have Mint Stuck in Her Teeth

“Martha,” we tell her, “You should write a book.”

“I can’t write a lick,” she says.”I’m practically a retard except you’re not allowed to say retard anymore.”

“No, you’re not, Martha.  You’re not allowed to say that word anymore.”

“Ok but I still can’t write lick.”

But she can, folks. Yes she can. You can see for yourself in this email Martha sent out to friends and family this week. I swear, I haven’t changed a word:

I am joining my friend Laurie Lico Albanese in raising funds for cancer research.  If you are like me, you get asked for donations every 10 minutes.  Please do not feel obligated, but if you typically donate to the American Cancer society, please feel free to donate via our team.  I have provided the link below and just $5 bucks would be fabulous and will take less than 5 minutes. If all of my friends donated at least $5, then I would raise at least $5!!!

Just a note of disclosure.  The walk includes a camp out in Brookdale Park, and I will not be sleeping on the ground.  The last time that happened, I woke up with my head 3 inches from the campfire!

I am walking in memory of 3 special people who died from cancer.

Nell Rose Flanary– my childhood friend Alison’s mother and the first person that I ever knew to have breast cancer. (cancer period)  She was diagnosed in the late 70’s and her doctor told her that it was nothing to worry about when she expressed concern.  She was a wonderful lady who died much too soon.

WR “Dub” Hines – my father who died of lung cancer at just 61.

Leigh Klenke – a good tennis buddy who died of breast cancer just a few short years ago leaving behind two small children.

Luckily, I have many more friends that have beat cancer and with your support, we can wipe out this horrible disease!


Last I checked,  Martha is up to $95 in donations. I’ll let you do the math.  If you are a friend of Martha’s, or would like to be, I hear she’s selling spots on her BFF list, and it’s only 5 bucks a pop. Who says good things don’t come cheap?

Day 210

My dog Sarah is looking at me with big droopy eyes. She is begging me to take her for a walk. Which I’m going to do. Very soon.

Meanwhile, Real Simple is a woman’s magazine that reads like a catalog — with lots of pleasant pictures, simple lists, and stuff to buy or ideas for redoing some physical or spiritual part of your life. MyBigWalker Elaine sent me this, from the Real Simple  “Daily Thoughts” feature.

image by Kate Powers, courtesy of Real Simple

“Walking gets the feet moving,

the blood moving,

the mind moving.

And movement is life.”

Carrie Latet

I’m sure we can find something in this tiny little inspiration message to use today. And for those who are wondering (I know I was), Carrie Letat is…somebody who writes inspirational quotes, but has no other presense on the internet: nary a wikipedia entry, a facebook page, a photo, a homepage — you get the idea.

Which just goes to show you that inspiration is where you find it.  And in the digital age, you can find it everywhere.  But is it real? I guess that’s up to you to decide.

Day 204

A single (divorced) friend  told me last week that she is lonely.

“I have to admit,” she said. “That I have been experiencing a lot of loneliness lately.”

Her lament  struck a deep chord in me,  because of all the things to fear in life, loneliness is the one I dread most.

Really, you ask? What about disease, alien invasion, nuclear war, terrorists, Wall Street collapse, and whatnot.   Those things are real, of course, but seem either remote, far away or out of my control, and anyway they  just don’t scare me. When I think of the  end of the world, I think about who I’d want to be with and who would want to be with me as the meteorite careened toward earth. Sure it’d be the end of all that we know, but in another way it’d be a chance to find out who my real friends are.

Loneliness is something I’ve experienced plenty in my life, and like so many emotions  it’s both a real feeling, and a trick of the mind. How else can we explain feeling lonely in a crowd, lonely when I’m at home with my pretty fab husband, lonely as I’m getting ready to go out to dinner with good friends, or often feeling the least lonely when I am…alone?

My mother was a lonely child — her sister was thirteen years older, and was already out of the house when my mother went to kindergarten. There are few photos of my mother as a little girl, and she is alone in all of them. She had one birthday party when she was five, and she married at 17 to get away from her sad home life. She started a family young, but her loneliness was contagious, and it spread to me.

Last week I was telling one of my lovely writing students that  I never wanted to do a walkathon or something that required me to ask for donations, because I knew (and yes, 20 years of therapy one does get to know oneself) that it would just be another artificial popularity proving ground I’d set up for myself. But I’m a BigWalker and a MyBigWalk Relay for Life team seemed not only obvious but the right thing to do. I assembled an awesome team of impressive and generous friends who are coming together to walk through the night to honor one another, celebrate survival, and raise money for research. And I’m the captain! Captains are always popular, right?

Here’s the catch: if I ask someone for a Relay for Life donation and don’t get a reply, I think it’s because I’m not clever enough, successful enough, or popular enough.

“So really, it’s like facebook,” Stacey said. “Just another one of those popularity contests life gives you just to prove you don’t have enough friends.”

“Exactly!” I said. That’s why I love teaching other writers — who else could have understood what I was trying to say, and expressed it so succinctly?

Sure, sure, the whole thing is about celebrating cancer survivors and memorializing those who fought bravely and lost — like my parents — but in some way it must be about me, and whether or not I have enough devoted friends. Right?


But it sure feels like that, sometimes. Having a blackberry to keep track of my emails, text messages that allow people to get in touch with me at any time of the day or night, and constant access to my email and facebook messages, can be the curse of an OCD-loneliness-impaired person such as myself.

Thank goodness for MyBigWalk. Seriously.

Just like intellectual activity is the mind’s escape from sadness and isolation,  walking is the whole-body antidote for loneliness. Not only does it give purpose and structure to the day — and as a writer, God knows I need as much of that as I can find — it gives me a reason to get out, to invite others to walk with me, and for others to invite themselves to come along on MyBigWalk.

Connecting with other people is one of the best antidotes for loneliness that there is. Doing it with purpose is even better.

Now, if only I could stop checking my facebook friend updates, I’d be in great shape.

Next Page »