Category Archives: Personal

Womb with a view: ultrasound images

One of the amazing things about modern pregnancy is that you get to see sneak previews through ultrasound sonograms.

While pregnancy is anything but abstract to Ginette, in many ways, I’m on the outside looking in, which has made these in utero images all the more captivating.

Like many expectant parents, I’ve been collecting the views and have assembled them in an online gallery that’s embedded below.

Before Ginette was showing, these images were one of the only ways I could make the pregnancy real. Now, with a little more than two months to go until the due date, and Ginette’s belly seemingly swelling by the day, it’s much easier to visualize something growing and evolving inside her.

The image below was the first glimpse of the embryo and was taken about a month after conception.

7 weeks ultrasound photo

During the ultrasound, the technician or doctor will measure the little creature with a ruler tool on the screen, as shown below.

62 days ultrasound photo

The most recent ultrasound was more than two months ago, at the 20-week milestone that’s roughly the midway point of pregnancy. I was surprised by how developed the fetus’ head was in the image below.

20 weeks ultrasound

We know we’re expecting a girl, but I’ve had trouble finding the right words to describe the life growing inside of Ginette. “Fetus” is the technical term for an unborn, developing mammal that’s beyond the embryonic stage (see graphic below), but that instantly makes me think of the acrimonious abortion fight.

Prenatal development table
Source: Wikipedia

Part of the issue for me is not wanting to jinx the pregnancy. Traditionally, Jews wouldn’t buy anything for a baby or discuss names until it arrived out of fear it would cause a miscarriage. I’m a Jew by birth, devout atheist by choice, and only superstitious about the N.F.L., but it still feels a little like counting your chickens before they hatch to call a fetus a baby or daughter. Perhaps I’m sensitized to the risk because my father lost his first son and my half-brother, Mark, due to sudden infant death syndrome a half-century ago.

Whatever the cause, hopefully this prenatal syntax issue I’m having will become moot in a couple months when our daughter arrives. I’m not sure if we’ll have any more ultrasounds before then, so the next encounter may be in the flesh.

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Time-lapse video: assembling the crib

Instead of skiing last weekend, I assembled a crib for my daughter to-be. She’s scheduled to arrive around May 5.  I still couldn’t put down my video cameras, so rather than film a mogul run, I did a time-lapse of the furniture assembly.

Crib assembly time lapse from Mitch Tobin on Vimeo.

The video above took about 2 hours to capture. I used an iPhone app called TimeLapse, which I typically employ for sunsets and cloud formations.

I’ve come to expect maddening directions (or lack thereof) when it comes to assembling products, but aside from having three different sizes of screws that were nearly indistinguishable, the crib was relatively straightforward to construct.

I suppose this is one of my first acts of parenting!

The president at Dubrow’s: How my dad led JFK to the toilet

In the fall of 1960, a few weeks before the November 8 presidential election, John F. Kennedy came to Brooklyn’s Kings Highway for a campaign rally at Dubrow’s Cafeteria, the restaurant chain started in 1929 by my great-grandfather, Benjamin Dubrow. Kennedy, locked in a tight race with Richard Nixon, was seeking to energize the base in a Democratic stronghold.

Dubrow's cafeteria, Kings Highway, Brooklyn. Source: Wikipedia
Dubrow’s cafeteria, Kings Highway, Brooklyn. Source: Wikipedia

My grandfather, Max Tobin, and my father, Paul Tobin, were working at the store in 1960. I was given a name starting with “M” in honor of Max, who died a year and a half before my birth in 1970. He looks like he’s bursting with pride in the photo below.

My grandfather and JFK at Dubrow's Cafeteria. Photographer unknown, via Sandra Cohen.
JFK at Dubrow’s Cafeteria. My grandfather Max stands directly above the candidate. Photographer unknown, via Sandra Cohen.

I’ve had trouble confirming details about the 1960 rally, such as the exact date, but my dad, now 78, told me this week that he worked with Kennedy aide Larry O’Brien to arrange the visit.

“I was the go-between,” he said. “It was about two weeks before the election and Kennedy came on a Thursday night.”

O’Brien, who would later serve as NBA commissioner, was the advance man. He had a critical mission: ensure Dubrow’s had something his boss liked to eat. The only problem was that Dubrow’s was a working-class, Jewish-style cafeteria, and JFK was a Roman Catholic blue blood from New England.

“He loved shrimp cocktail, but we didn’t make shrimp cocktail at our place, so we sent someone to Lundy’s world-famous seafood house in Sheepshead Bay,” my dad said. “He also wanted lobster bisque. We weren’t kosher, but that wasn’t one of our soups.”

John F. Kennedy at Dubrows Cafeteria in 1960. Photographer unknown, via Sandra Cohen.
John F. Kennedy at Dubrow’s Cafeteria in 1960. Photographer unknown, via Sandra Cohen.

JFK also had a steak and Heineken beer. For some reason, “London broil” comes to mind when I think of this story, which became part of the family folklore, but my dad wasn’t sure what type of beef Kennedy ate that night.

What my dad does remember is leading JFK to the toilet in Dubrow’s, with Secret Service in tow.

“I was in the men’s room with him,” he said.

Four decades later, I wound up leading another presidential candidate to the bathroom. I was a reporter at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, and one day while walking across the newsroom, I looked up to see Arizona Senator John McCain striding toward me. “Which way to the men’s room?” asked McCain, who was there for an editorial board meeting. I shook his hand, pointed him in the right direction, and he was gone. I’ve always regretted not walking with him, spending a few more seconds with a historic figure, but he seemed to be in a hurry. Maybe he really had to go.

John F. Kennedy at Dubrow's Cafeteria in 1960. Photographer unknown, via Sandra Cohen.
John F. Kennedy at Dubrow’s Cafeteria in 1960. Photographer unknown, via Sandra Cohen.

I haven’t found any press accounts of the 1960 event at the Kings Highway Dubrow’s, so I’m not sure how many people attended, but my dad said “the crowd was so huge that after it dispersed, there were three or four or five bushels of shoes lost in the avalanche of people coming through.” It must have been some stampede.

These photos of the event, posted by Eve Lyons, another great-grandchild of Benjamin Dubrow, show Kennedy mixing with the crowd in an intimate manner you wouldn’t see today, at least not without having passed through metal detectors.

The Wikipedia entry on Brooklyn’s Midwood neighborhood provides some background on Dubrow’s and the Kennedy rally:

In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Kings Highway had Dubrow’s Cafeteria, a classic cafeteria where holes would be punched in patrons’ printed tickets, which would total the cost of the meal. It was a popular place to eat and schmooze . . . In his run for the White House, Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy held a massive campaign rally just outside Dubrow’s Cafeteria. A huge crowd of people turned out to hear this popular political icon speak, stretching for blocks in all directions. Years later his brother Senator Robert F. Kennedy (“Bobby”) held a similar campaign rally there for his run for President, with a similarly large audience.

A few weeks after the 1960  Brooklyn rally, Kennedy narrowly defeated Richard Nixon. He carried New York 52% to 47% and won the national vote by just 0.17%.

The Dubrow’s on Kings Highway closed in the late 1970s, but another Dubrow’s in Manhattan stayed open until 1985. On October 30, 1980, President Jimmy Carter held a campaign event in front of the Manhattan restaurant, located on Seventh Avenue in the Garment District, another stronghold for unions and Democrats.

Carter ate at the Manhattan Dubrow’s the day of his rally. Like JFK, the peanut farmer from Georgia wasn’t quite kosher.

“He ate a corned beef sandwich with mayonnaise,” my dad told me.

Jimmy Carter at rally outside of Dubrow's Manhattan store.
Jimmy Carter at a rally outside of Dubrow’s Manhattan store. He put mayo on his corn beef sandwich, according to my dad. Photographer unknown.

My eclectic exercise mix

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the bike saddle over the past few months, training for my Great Divide mountain biking trip, and this Spotify playlist has helped ward off boredom and made my workouts much more enjoyable.

There’s a good New York Times story here about choosing the best music for exercise. And there’s actually some peer-reviewed scientific research (such as here and here) to support the notion that athletes perform better while listening to tunes and/or watching video.

headphonesMy preferred vehicle for delivering these songs and others is through a pair of Bluetooth wireless headphones connected to my iPhone. I’m able to fast-forward through songs by touching a little button near my neck and I no longer have to worry about strangling myself with wires. The sound quality on these things isn’t great, and the connection to the iPhone isn’t 100% reliable, but hey, whaddya expect for $50.

For safety’s sake, I don’t listen to music while riding in traffic, but here in Denver we’ve got a great network of paved paths along all the major rivers and streams, so I’m able to rock out in relative security.

Happy listening!

My top-10 screw ups

I’ve got plenty to worry about as I prepare to bikepack the Great Divide. Brutal climbs. Foul weather. Saddle sores. Limited oxygen.

But my biggest fear is that I’ll make some colossal blunder that turns my vacation into a nightmare. These trepidations are justified by my checkered history of missteps. “You’re like an absent-minded professor!” my grade school teacher told me more than 30 years ago.

Einstein on bike
Einstein: bicyclist, absent-minded professor

Examine my GPAs, SATs, and GREs and you’d conclude I’m pretty smart guy. But judge me by the number of items I’ve lost/destroyed or the number of insurance claims I’ve filed or contemplated and you’d conclude that I’m still in need of adult supervision.

The die was cast early, when I was around two years old. I was visiting my grandparents’ house in upstate New York, running across their yard, and—whoosh!—I disappeared into the lawn, which was saturated from recent rains. Luckily, my mom was there to pull me out by my ankles and save me drowning in the subterranean cesspool (some may say I’ve been full of shit ever since then).

With the hope of immunizing myself against more expensive and embarrassing goofs, I’ve decided to codify my carelessness with this list of my top-10 fuck ups.

10. Driving into the garage with my bike on the roof (times two). The first time, the impact cracked the front tube of my Specialized Stumpjumper and fatally injured the bike. The bright side was that it forced me to buy a new bike, but a few years later, I did the same exact thing with my Specialized Epic Comp—the bike I’ll be riding on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. In this case, I only busted the front fork, but the collision caused my bike to cart-wheel around the back of my Subaru Forester and smash through the hatchback window. (If you’re keeping score at home, I destroyed yet another suspension fork a few months ago while leaving a remote campsite on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, after my handlebar snagged a juniper branch and was ripped off my roof rack.)

9. Dropping a $799 lens off a cliff. I was backpacking in Aravaipa Canyon, near Tucson, and decided to climb the surrounding cliffs to snap some photos of the emerald riparian corridor flanked by desert and stately saguaros. As I was switching to a new lens, it slipped out of my hands, bounced off my foot, and rolled off a 200-foot precipice. The mournful cry of “Noooooooo!” echoed through the empty canyon.

8. Leaving my iPhone atop my car. On a work trip to Northwest Colorado, I heard a noise coming from my roof rack and pulled over to check it out (see #10 and #2). As I adjusted my bike, I rested my iPhone on the roof, then got back into the car without it and sped off on I-70. It only took a short while to realize my mistake and I circled back on the highway. My phone was scattered across the asphalt and I got to see an 18-wheeler run over the biggest piece.

7. Losing my sunglasses (times 78). My sunglasses (and loaners from Ginette) have a life expectancy of a few months, at best. Accordingly, I never spend more than $30 on a new pair (likewise, I always replace my front forks with low-end models, knowing they won’t last long on my bike.)

6. Impaling my car in Telluride. While on book tour a few years ago, I drove out to Telluride to give a talk (approximately three people showed up). The next morning, while leaving the hotel parking lot, a terrible chain reaction transpired in a matter of seconds: I sprayed my windshield to clear off the ice, the sun blinded me as I was turning out of the parking space, and I drove into a guardrail at around 3 mph. Perfectly placed, the rod-shaped guardrail harpooned my right headlight and lodged itself halfway into the engine compartment. This prompted a 127-mile tow-truck ride to Grand Junction, several thousand dollars in repairs (thank god for deductibles!), renting a car to drive back to Denver, and then taking a Greyhound back to Grand Junction to fetch my car a few weeks later.

5. Dropping my laptop at the Denver airport. Knowing how likely I am to drop stuff, I protect my MacBook and iPad with padded, neoprene sleeves. But these things only work if they’re zipped up. Such was not the case as I unloaded my possessions onto the conveyor belt at the security checkpoint. My laptop slipped out and the sound of metal meeting concrete echoed throughout the cavernous white tent that serves as the terminal. The fall caused the machine to make a horrible whirring noise but the guy at the Apple Store managed to fix it for free (I now buy SquareTrade warranties for my pricier gadgets—totally worth the peace of mind).

4. Paying $500 to a plumber after snapping a 10-cent screw. The shower in my house in Tucson was a little leaky and I decided to fix it myself to save a little money. While tightening a screw in the faucet handle, the head snapped off, which necessitated hiring a plumber to bust through the shower tile in my other bathroom, on the opposing side of the wall, to access the pipe and fixture (don’t ask). Easier to visualize is my immediate reaction to breaking the screw:  I punched a hole in the drywall of my bedroom, which I kept hidden for years by putting a picture in front of the damage.

3. Trashing the U-haul truck. When Ginette and I moved from Tucson to Berkeley, we made the mistake of renting a U-Haul truck. Ninety minutes into the trip, the truck died on I-8, in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, on a triple-digit day in August. Nearly two hours later, a mobile mechanic came out and replaced the alternator, but this was just the beginning of the adventure. The next day, we came within a few yards of running out of gas in the Mojave Desert after the truck’s gas gauge went from ¼ full to empty in about 30 seconds as we climbed a mountain pass. While pulling into a gas station, I ran into yet another metal post (see #6) and dented the side. While parking in Berkeley, I ran over and flattened a stop sign—nothing a little duct tape couldn’t fix. Good thing I had the full-coverage, no-fault insurance coverage from U-Haul!

2. Showering my camping gear onto I-70 near Golden. Ginette and I were driving to the Grand Canyon (see #10) and it was ferociously windy as we left Denver. Near Golden, the Yakima box on our roof flew open and expelled a bunch of our camping gear (apparently I hadn’t locked it correctly). In my rear-view mirror I could see the stuff sack with my sleeping bag bouncing down the middle lane of I-70 (see #8) and I had to wait for a break in the traffic to dash out and retrieve it. Miraculously, the only harm done was a tiny hole in the air mattress that I was able to fix with patches for bicycle tubes.

1. Breaking my hand in a hotel bathroom. I was in a San Francisco hotel room the night that I submitted my manuscript for Endangered to my publisher. Relieved (and stone cold sober), I went to bed, woke up in the middle of the night, tripped in the bathroom, jammed my hand against the shower wall, and broke my middle metacarpal bone, which put me in a cast for six weeks. After five years of working on the book, I guess my body was telling me to stop typing.

I think these episodes offer a number of lessons. For starters, you should never loan me your sunglasses or let me put your bike on the roof of my car. Another is that insurance can be money well spent. Even more important, my history of costly mess-ups means that I really need to be more mindful and focus on the here and now. That goes for this trip, and for life in general.