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The Fuller Center Ride – Catchup

| June 20, 2022 | 0 Comments
At the conclusion of the ride, we dip our front tires into Lake Erie to symbolize the conclusion of the ride. I’m second from the left.

It’s been a month since the conclusion of the Fuller Center ride and I’ve been tormented by my commitment to do a conclusionary post. My tendency of procrastination is at its peak when it comes to writing. It is only the point at which the pain of guilt from resisting writing something I need to write exceeds the pain of actually writing that I finally succumb. So, here I am. I’m going to begin trying to catch up. The picture above is the end, but I’m going to pick up where I left off and see if I can establish some record of the ride for posterity.

Actually, I had planned an extensive project of retro-posting a day by day account of the ride. Yeah, right. That wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I will recount the highlights and lowlights in a single post so I can get this off my conscience. And I’m just going to write stream of consciousness and go wherever it takes me.

I left off on Day 2 in which the trailer needed repair. So, I’ll pick things up on Day 3.

DAY 3 – June 15th

Glendale to Louisville – 59.4 miles

It was a relatively short jaunt from Glendale to Louisville. Unfortunately, it was a day of flats for me. I got three. They were all slow leaks, so I didn’t realize my tire was going flat until one of other riders pointed it out to me. All lot of the riding that day was on the shoulder of busy 2 or 4 land roads with a good number of trucks. The flat was caused by a wire from a retread from one of the trucks. I pulled over in a clearing to fix it. It turned out to the site of a fatal accident that killed two people, Donald and Sheila Williams. As it happened, our stop was one day before the 38th anniversary of the accident, as you can see from the monument. Sorry about the bio break being taken by the rider in the background who helped me with the flat. Didn’t notice when I was taking the picture.

Donald and Sheila Williams, Died June 16th, 1984, May They Rest In Peace

We didn’t get the whole wire out, which caused two more flats before I finally fixed it permanently that evening. No more flats for the rest of the ride.

DAY 4 – June 16

Louisville – Build Day

Showers at the the Louisville Fire Department. Firefighters working out. A couple of riders took advantage of the cold plunge.

Day 5 – June 17th

Louisville to Warsaw

Today’s ride was 81 miles, so not nothing. We were challenged with a passing thunderstorm that required us to take cover at a gas station. The timing was pretty perfect in that this was our scheduled rest stop. The rain continued a bit even after the storm passed. So, we had to dig out our rain jackets from the trailer. But it did cool things down.

I took some heat over my jacket. Not the day-glo style designed for visibility

There was one big hill at the end before a nice down hill glide into Warsaw, a very nice resort town on the Ohio River.

Me and Ray Arriving in Warsaw

We had a nice dinner at a restaurant on the Ohio River.

Left to Right: Diane, John, Mark, Tim, me, Alex, Sandi

OK, I’m going to post this and continue posting updates subsequently.

Fuller Ride: Day 2, Bowling Green to Glendale

| June 14, 2022 | 0 Comments

So this week hasn’t gone quite as planned. Certainly not with respect to my attempted daily dispatches. The toll that COVID took on the riders and others before I arrived reduced the support team to such a point that the logistics of the day to day existence, separate from the ride itself, became significantly more challenging than usual for these rides. Much more of the time not on the bike was spent either obtaining food, eating food, locating and taking showers and other of life’s necessities. There was simply no time for me to write the daily blog posts I had planned to do. . So as a result, it is one week in and I’m only now reporting on the day two ride, otherwise know as “the ballbuster.

But first, to pick up where i left off, we had arrived in Bowling Green to the news that our trailer had a potentially catastrophic mechanical problem, something to do with the springs that would have caused the trailer to flip if not fixed immediately. So, we had to rent a new trailer while the first one was repaired. Suffice to say, that introduced some complications.

The route on Day 2 was 72 miles from Bowlig Green to Glendale, Kentucky. The heat index would go to over 100 degrees and there would be lots of hills. i made it to 60 miles before I hit the wall. My fancy new bike allowed me to do the hills better than in past rides, but, for some reason, it doesn’t seem to be able to control the heat. I asked for a pick-up at the top of a hill and was told that the van was on the way. So, I waited with the two “sweeps,” the guys who stay to the back of the pack to make sure everyone makes it. After a seemingly inordinate wait, we learned that another rider was suffering from heat stroke and they had called an ambulance. We actually saw the ambulance go by. I thought about flagging it down so I could hop in the back, but didn’t do it. In any event, the necessary triage meant that I had to get back on the bike and keep riding, with frequent stops. There was one more big hill that I managed to clear with the encouragement of the sweeps.. The van did eventually pick me up after about 5 miles more of riding.

Day One: Nashville to Bowling Green

| June 14, 2022 | 1 Comment
Early in the Ride We Crossed the Cumberland River

A baptism of fire, almost literally. Today’s ride was 70 miles with one big hill going into the first rest stop, which I cleared pretty well. It got hotter and hotter as the day progressed. Not surprisingly, the pedaling got tougher. As I approached the second rest stop, the temperature was in the high 90’s and I wasn’t sure I would make it.

One of my hopes for this ride was to get some good pictures. So, I packed my camera and telephoto lens in the bike bag with tools and extra tubes. When I pulled into the second rest stop at the 50 mile mark, I was spent. So, I removed my bike bag. OMG it was heavy. I gave it to another rider and he said, “Holy shit! That weighs more than your bike! What are you nuts?”

He was right. It literally did weigh more than the bike. So, don’t expect any awesome pictures on this trip. I’ll be using my phone, except when we’re at the church. I’m not lugging the camera with me anymore.

There was also a very tough stretch on the ride that seemed to be a favorite for truckers. It was the worst of all worlds. Two lane highway, with very narrow shoulders and teeth rattling rumble strips. Dump trucks, tractor trailers, etc. zooming by. Most gave us wide berth, but some did not. It was disconcerting.

Looking back, I suspect part of the reason I was having trouble was that I was listening to the January 6th hearing on my bike. I was mostly riding alone, which was good, since I’m not sure of the politics of my fellow riders. But, when Liz Cheney said “an apparently inebriated Rudy Giuliani” I laughed out loud and noticed one of the other drivers on my tail. So, I shut it off.

I’d been holding off on listening to music so that i don’t tire of my playlist too quickly. But, with 10 miles to go, I had to pull over under a shady tree to collect myself. When I started out on this final stretch, I broke down, and put on a playlist from a previous ride. The first song that came on was Gimme Shelter and my legs just start pumping. I was renewed, energized. Next up Stage Fright by The Band. Another winner! Loan Me a Dime by Boz Scaggs. I was cranking.

It worked well for most of the way. But i have to admit I arrived at the church in pretty rough shape.

Tomorrow is supposed to be longer, with more hills and hotter.

Fuller Ride: Nashville

| June 12, 2022 | 4 Comments

Sunday – Arrival in Nashville

When I connected with the bike ride in Nashville, I felt like I was joining a military unit that had just been through a tough battle and taken many casualties.

Scenic View Baptist Church

Here are some of the things that happened over the last two weeks before I got here:

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Storyworth: How Did You Bring Peace to the Middle East – Chapter One

| May 25, 2022 | 0 Comments

In the summer of 1997, I had just started my 17-year career at FleishmanHillard (FH).  I was still very much learning the ropes of what it meant to be a “public affairs consultant.”  One day, I got a call from Jim Rosapepe, who was at the time a Maryland state senator, but would, in time, become the U.S. Ambassador to Romania.  He was also on the Board of the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL), a foreign exchange program that sent young (under 40 years old) politically active Americans around the world.  They also welcomed similar young people from other countries.  I had gone to the Future of Europe Conference in London under their auspices.  It was a fabulous experience.  I had hoped to do other programs with them, but, by 1997, I had aged out and never expected to hear from them again.

Jim had an intriguing request.  He said they were trying something new and wanted me to be a part of it.  They were developing a meeting that would bring together young political people from Israel and the Palestinian areas.  The Israelis would come from the conservative Likud Party, them in power in Tel Aviv.  The Palestinians would come from the Fatah Party, the party of Yassir Arafat, possibly the most hated man in Israel.  Unlike typical ACYPL programs where participants go on tours and meetings with their counterparts in other countries, this program would be more “goal oriented.”  The idea was to teach young Palestinians and Israelis how to communicate with one another without violence.   This was a time when America was admired around the world for its ability to settle political disputes peacefully, both through a democratic process and constructive communications across differing parties.  Yes, this was a long time ago.

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Storyworth: What the Farthest You’ve Ever Travelled

| May 14, 2022 | 0 Comments

In 2007, I was a public affairs consultant working at FleishmanHillard, a global PR firm based in St. Louis.  The company had offices all over the world, including China and Hong Kong.  I was contacted by the Hong Kong office to help with a client of theirs called Huawei.  Huawei is pretty well known now, but nobody in the U.S. (outside of the intelligence community) had ever heard of them.  The company made the guts of the wireless telecommunications system and were’ hoping to enter the American market.  They were in the process of partnering the American investment company called Bain & Company to acquire an American company called 3Comm.  Little did I know that this project would launch me on a seven year global adventure that would provide me both the highlights and lowlights of my professional career.

My recollection is that, in 2007, Huawei had a market cap of about $30 billion dollars.  Their customers were mobile phone companies in the third world, mostly Latin America and Africa.  The had achieved a breakthrough with British Telecomm which was their first entre’ into the industrialized world.  But the U.S. was the big prize.

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Storyworth: What was the neighborhood you grew up in like?

| May 6, 2022 | 1 Comment

Roslindale is among the lesser known neighborhoods of Boston. Most people not from Massachusetts have never heard of it. I have to describe it in relation to other well known neighborhoods. “It’s between Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury,” I’ll say.

It has gotten somewhat better known since I left in 1981. It did become hot among so-called yuppies in the 90’s who liked the relatively lower housing prices than the hotter markets surrounding it. It’s a relatively quiet area with lots of single-family houses. I knew it was changing when the powers-that-be changed the name of the section known as Roslindale Square to Roslindale Village in the 80’s or 90’s. I don’t believe that branding has taken hold. It’s still “Rozzie Square” even to the more recent arrivals.

When I was growing up, Roslindale was a lower middle class neighborhood. Most of my friends were Irish Catholic, like me. But there was a substantial Greek population and my best friend was named Billy Jacob who lived across the street from me and whose parents were Lebanese immigrants. The hub of the neighborhood was “The Square.”.There were two supermarkets, Roche’s and Corey’s. I’d get my haircut at Frank’s Barbershop. My first job was working for Roche Brother’s delivery service, described in a previous chapter. That job forced me to really get to know Roslindale from end to end as I had to organize the routes by which we would deliver the groceries.

Washington Street ran down the middle of Roslindale and continued east for about 5 miles into downtown Boston. At either end of Washington Street in Roslindale there were housing projects, Archdale Projects at the east end and Beech Street Projects to the west. Most of the residents of the projects were Black. Segregation was alive and well in Boston in those days, so we considered them dangerous and to be avoided. In my late teens, however, I had one friend, Larry Cunningham, who lived in the Archdale projects with his mother. So, I would occasionally spend time in his apartment with our gang of friends. Let’s just say we could do things in Larry’s apartment (mostly drink beer) that were not permitted in our own homes.

I remember one time about 5 of us were in a car and we got crosswise with some other guys. I was driving and I probably cut them off or something. They got angry and started chasing us. Larry instructed me to head for the projects for safety. As a resident, Larry could rely on his neighbors for protection. I drove into the projects and our pursuers peeled off. The irony was not lost on me that, after growing up fearing the projects, on this night, it was the place to go for safety.

As I came of age, I spent a lot of time – waaay too much time – at the Roslindale Pub, owned by Vinnie Marino. We all thought Vinnie was a mid level mafioso. I doubt he was, but it was cool to think so. “The Pub” as it was known, attracted an eclectic group of people. It was literally the poor man’s version of Cheers. It was a place where everyone knew your name, unless they were too drunk to remember. Among our extended group, we lost one, John Steele, to a fatal car crash after leaving the pub one night when he drove his car into a tree about 1/4 mile away. Another, Kevin Downs, committed suicide. But the most dramatic event was the murder that took place in the doorway. I was not there that night, but one of our friends, Phil, had walked in right in front of the victim whose name was Ralph. My recollection is that it was some sort of attempted “hit,” but they got the wrong guy. Ralph had nothing to do with the dispute and Phil was a witness in the murder trial that followed. It was a tragic incident that did increase our suspicions about Vinnie’s “connections.”

I lived outside Roslindale for the first time in my life when I got a job with the newly-elected Rep. Barney Frank in 1981. But Rozzie was part of my identity, even in Washington, DC. One evening early in my new career as congressional aide, I was staffing Barney on a couple of events. The first one was with the incoming Secretary of Treasury, Donald Regan, at the Treasury Department next to the White House. The next event was a TV appearance by Barney at a PBS station in Maryland. The station was sending a limousine to pick us up. As we walked along Pennsylvania Avenue, I kept pointing out limos that might be the one that was to pick us up. None were. Finally, in frustration, Barney said, “Bill, this isn’t Rozzie Square. There’s lots of limos.”

Among the famous people who grew up in Roslindale were Mary McGrory, the legendary Washington journalist and Fr. Robert Drinan, the Jesuit priest and congressman who preceded Barney Frank in representing Massachusetts’ 4th CD. I actually had the opportunity to chat about Roslindale with Ms. McGrory, which she remembered fondly.

To this day, I consider Roslindale my home. All of my siblings still live there. And I even named my dog Rozzie.

Rozzie, the Dog

Rozzie, the dog

Today, Roslindale is home to the Mayor of Boston, Michelle Wu, so I guess you could say the neighborhood has arrived. Soon, people from Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury will describe those locations as next to Roslindale.

Well, maybe not…

Storyworth: Who Was the Wisest Person You Ever Knew?

| April 25, 2022 | 0 Comments

Abbot Aiden with Danny‘ and His Fellow Graduates of St. Anselm’s Abbey School

When my son, Danny, was in sixth grade, he decided he wanted to go to St. Anselm’s Abbey School. Rita and I didn’t know much about the school and were impressed with Danny’s decision to take control of his future. The more we learned about St. Anselm’s, the more impressed we were with Danny’s decision. So, we started the process of applying to the school.

As it turned out, some of the motivations Danny had for going to the school were misguided and he began to change his mind. But, by then, Rita and I were all in for him going to the school, so we didn’t allow him to back out. It may have been the best decision about Danny’s future that we’d ever made. Much of the reason he’s the extraordinary young man he is today can be traced to St. Anselm’s.

At the abbey associated with the school, the Abbot was a man named Aiden O’Shea, more commonly known as Abbot Aiden. After Danny had been accepted to the school but before he began attending, Abbot Aiden spoke at an event at our parish, Blessed Sacrament Church. I wanted to meet him, so I attended the event. I was deeply impressed with his spirituality, humility, intelligence and charisma. I was also surprised to learn he was a fellow Bostonian, having grown up on Beacon Hill. I spoke to him after his remarks and invited him to lunch and he readily accepted. At the time, I was wrestling with issues of faith and thought he might help guide me through. I didn’t fully realize then that this “wrestling” would be a permanent state of affairs, but that’s an issue I’ve dealt with in a previous chapter.

That lunch led to a ten year plus relationship. I’d asked him to be my “spiritual advisor,” but we became close friends. It is impossible to capture Abbot Aiden, the man, or the importance he had for me in a chapter such as this. All I can do is relay a few anecdotes that come to mind when I think of him. 

He was a Benedictine monk for more than 50 years. Benedictine monks are assigned to a particular abbey and they stay there for their entire lives. He became a monk in 1958 and spent his life at St. Anselm’s. 

He went into the monastery after serving in the military. He was drafted into the 82nd Airborne. He told me one story of his military service which was not your typical war story. He once encountered an attempted homosexual rape in the shower on his base. He broke up the attack by blasting hot water on the assailant. Other than that, he acknowledged his unsuitability for military service. Nonetheless, he earned an honorable discharge and became a monk.

I’ve tried to remember some profound sayings he may have provided me, but, honestly, he mostly taught by example. Being in his presence was a balm.

I did ask him once how, in the absence of proof, he could be so confident of the existence of God that he would literally dedicate his entire life to that belief. He said that, even if he learned that God did not exist, he would have no regrets. He found the monastic life so rewarding that he wouldn’t change a thing about the life he chose.

As he got older, he began to suffer from the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease. The physical effects eventually confined him to a wheelchair. But he found the mental effects much more frustrating. Our relationship evolved from one where I came to him to receive comfort to one where I visited him to provide comfort. 

I remember the day I got a call from his caregiver, Rowena, telling me that he was entering hospice care. I dropped what I was doing and immediately went to visit him. He was in bed and not fully aware of his surroundings. Rowena whispered in his ear, “This is Bill Black here to see you.” He smiled. I will take that smile to my grave. He couldn’t really speak, but I chatted with him and his face was pleasant and peaceful. It was a very spiritual experience.

When I told my family, Rita, Danny and Bridget that Abbot Aiden was receiving hospice care, we decided to visit him that Sunday, about three days from my visit. We arrived at the abbey only to be told he had died 20 minutes before our arrival. I was both devastated and immensely grateful for the previous visit. We were allowed to visit him one more time. We were struck by the matter-of-fact way the other monks treated his passing. They clearly believed he’d “gone home.” There was no grieving. They just went about their business. At first, it bothered us that they didn’t seem to appreciate the magnitude of what had occurred. But, we concluded that their behavior simply reflected their sincere believe that Abbot Aiden was in a better place.

I sure hope that’s true.

Bill Black, April 16, 2022

Storyworth: Did anyone in the family play a part in History with a capital h?

| March 21, 2022 | 0 Comments

When I was about 10 years old, I asked my father what he did in World War II. He told me he landed at Normandy on D-Day plus 1, June 7th, 1944. He said he was a mile from the front. To my young brain, filled with TV shows, like Combat and 1950’s war movies, his answer was a disappointment. There were no movies about the guys that showed up the next day. All that mattered was what was happening on the front lines. For me, my father was a day late and a mile short.

My father, Bill Black, on the right, in his machine shop during WWII

What an idiot I was (or maybe I was just a ten-year-old boy). To my lifelong regret, I didn’t say, “Wow! That’s amazing! Tell me more.” Knowing what I know now, I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to land on Omaha Beach the day after D-Day. A more recent war movie, Saving Private Ryan, was a more accurate depiction of war, specifically what happened on that day. The beach must have been littered with dead soldiers when he arrived. I suspect the surf was still red with all the blood. It must have been horrific.

A number of years ago, my cousin, Bob Black, sent me a trove of letters my father wrote to his sister, Ann, during his service in World War II. One letter refers to his arrival in France from England. Here’s what he wrote to Ann on July 22, 1944 after restrictions on letters home were lifted:

    “They have eased up on the censoring enough to so that I can say that we came to France the hard way – landed on the beach. There was no interference. It was quite a thrill tho as we approached the beachhead, to think that we were landing in another foreign country. I kept thinking about how Pete [his brother] had come to France + comparing the circumstances. As for the beach itself, at high tide, it might have been any part of the Cape. Boy, how it reminded me of it. Of course, at the Cape, you wouldn’t see a lot of destroyed barges laying about. For the next four or five days, it was kinda rough. I lived in the truck + ate K rations.”

That’s it. He was 26 years old. I’m sure his goal was to reassure his sister. I have to believe his landing was a bit more traumatic than he described.

[Interruption]

Since beginning this post, inspired by the question, I have systematically gone through all of my father’s letters to his sister during his service in World War II. There are 31 letters. The first letter was written from Aberdeen, Maryland on July 2nd, 1943. The last was exactly two years later, on July 2nd 1945. All were, of course, handwritten. Fortunately, he had pretty good handwriting and the letter’s have held up well. Some were so-called V Mails, which were like postcards that enjoyed expedited delivery, though they were short. Reading these letters was an extraordinary journey through the war experience through my father’s eyes. They are such a gift.

For the most part, they are very personal accounts of his experiences, his concerns and expectations. After getting bounced around quite a bit, he landed in the job that he truly wanted, that of a machinist. He had a girlfriend named Dottie Jayes, who was in the Coast Guard. She dumped him in January of 1945. In a letter on February 4th, 1945, he expressed anger that she also wrote to his mother, my grandmother, announcing the breakup. He was concerned that his mother would worry that “they might be sizing me up for a straight jacket” upon his hearing the news. Amazingly, I googled “Dorothy Jayes, Coast Guard” and she came right up. She died in East Yarmouth on the Cape in 2008 at age 86. She was married twice and had a career as a PR executive in NY. Incredible what you can find on the Internet.

Of course, the letters raise an infinite number of questions, most of which will likely never be answered. By their nature, they leave huge gaps in his experiences during the war. The main locations from which they were written were Aberdeen, Maryland; San Antonio, Texas; England and France. The locations in England and France were a bit vague due to wartime censorship. As noted above, he landed on the beach in Normandy as part of the Ninth Air Force. For years, I’ve tried to find some independent verification of his wartime service, particularly some documentation that he landed on Normandy the day after D Day.

Recently, I discovered a document entitled “A Condensed Analysis of the Ninth Air Force in the European Theater of Operations,” published in 1946. It describes the role of the Ninth Air Force in softening the Nazi resistance in advance of the invasion of Normandy. The Ninth Air Force dropped the paratroopers behind the lines the night before D Day. They also bombed bridges in northern France that prevented German troops and armor from getting to Normandy after the invasion started. The report quotes Herman Goering as saying about D Day, “The allies owe the success of their invasion to their air forces. They prepared the invasion; they made it possible; and they carried it through.” That was the Ninth.

As to D Day plus 1, the report says, “The first units of the [Ninth Air Force] Engineer Command landed on Utah Beach on D Day and on Omaha Beach on D Day plus 1.” My father may have been part of that landing. The Engineer Command were the people who built the air strips as soon as they secured the beaches. My father was with the Service Command, the guys that keep all the machinery operating. I could imagine that the engineers would need men from the Service Command with them when the landed. If so, Omaha Beach must have been quite a sight that day.

After his arrival in France, his letters described a number of his experiences touring the countryside. He spent some time in Paris, which he LOVED. His next three letters had multiple variations of “Did I tell you how great Paris was?” He had another weekend in Paris when his brother, Franny, which was also very special.

His final letters were particularly interesting. He wrote one on May 9th, the day after VE day. He was pretty frustrated that he was in some godforsaken base in the French countryside when the war ended. He said he would have loved to have been in Paris for the celebration. The fact that he was writing a letter the day after the war ended in Europe suggests there wasn’t much of a party where he was. In the letters after that, he was very anxious about getting home. In one letter, he’s optimistic. In the next letter, a month later, he’s worried that he would be assigned to “the occupation.” The letters stopped on July 2nd, so I don’t know when he got home.

So, my detective work continues….

Storyworth: Do You Believe in a Higher Power?

| March 13, 2022 | 0 Comments

This Storyworth thing allows you to head off questions if you get to them before they are posted. Since I fell behind in my writing, I didn’t see this one coming. I would have headed it off. This is a topic that I’ve wrestled with since I was about 14 years old. I’ll ignore the carefully worded question and just consider the question to be “Do you believe in God?”

Buckle up. This is going to be a long one.

I was raised Catholic and went to grammar school at Sacred Heart School in Roslindale. I was pretty much all in on Catholicism. I was an altar boy for the whole time I was eligible. I almost didn’t make it because I had so much trouble learning the Confiteor Dei, a long prayer in Latin. At my last recital before being washed out, I finally got it. Less than a year later, Vatican Two converted the Mass to English, so it was all for naught. By the time I retired as an altar boy, I was the longest serving altar boy in the parish.

As i approached graduation from grammar school, I was probably headed to one of two Catholic high schools, Catholic Memorial in West Roxbury or Xaverian Brothers in Westwood. Both cost a lot of money and my family had no money. But there was no way my parents were going to send me to Roslindale High the local public school, which was seen as a “thug school.” My grand uncle, Brother Jason, was the librarian at Xaverian, which I think entitled us to a break on the tuition. But it was about a 40 minute drive away. Catholic Memorial was close to home, but no tuition break. In the hope that lightening would strike, I took the notoriously difficult exam to get into Boston Latin School, Boston’s most elite public school founded in 1633. Against all odds, I was one of two boys (only boys could go there) who got admitted from Sacred Heart.

The nuns at Sacred Heart strongly urged me to go to one of the Catholic high school. But BLS was free, so that’s where I went.

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