Meeting Monte — How a Chance Encounter Inspired Me To Get Healthy
This is the story of a man I barely know and how that man changed my life.
It is the story of someone I rarely see. It is the story of a person I converse with perhaps no more than once or twice per year. It is the story of a man who is probably more of an acquaintance than a close freind.
Yet it’s also the story of how a seemingly insignificant encounter in our lives can inspire us to change ourselves and motivate us toward self-improvement. It’s also revealing that such inspiration has no expiration date — proving that something which truly impacts us can instigate changes which may manifest themselves many years later.
Yes, this really happened. It happened to me. I would like to tell you this story.
CHANCE ENCOUNTER (DOWNTOWN LAS VEGAS — AUGUST 2000)
There wasn’t much about that hot August night 12 years ago that I remember, other than there was a ridiculous amount of alcohol involved. Leading the charge was a man I’ll call “Monte.”
The volume ordered and summarily consumed that night doesn’t matter except that it was unusually excessive.
I relate this story, not so much for what happened that night. as what followed the next morning. En route to a nearby Starbuck’s coffee shop, I came upon this same man named Monte. He was the same brave soul who has slammed down beer after beer and shot after shot and then some — just hours earlier at the same poker table where I had managed to blast through several hundred dollars.
Monte was standing outside. It was August. In Las Vegas. The temperature was 110 degrees.
Monte was saturated in sweat. He looked as if he’d just stepped out of a swimming pool. Monte was dripping wet. He was also somewhat out of breath.
Seeing Monte in this condition wasn’t just a surprise. It was a total shock. After all, we’d been together at a poker table most of the previous night, and even into the early morning. Now, just a few hours later, Monte was in the midst of a physical workout. He looked healthy under the circumstances. By contrast, I was just getting out of bed and struggled to make my way to the coffee shop.
At least one inquiring mind wanted to know — so I asked Monte what he was doing standing on a blazing downtown Las Vegas street, drenched in sweat. Monte replied that he had just finished with his daily run.
“Where did you run?” I asked, expecting to hear something back like — around the block.
“To the Stratosphere,” was his reply.
“The Stratosphere! What is that — three or four miles from here?” I asked.
“Yeah — it’s about seven miles round trip.”
“Round trip!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, let alone seeing.
Monte revealed that this was pretty much a daily routine. He enjoyed devouring hearty meals, drank pretty much what he wished and as much as he want, and then each day — no matter what, rain or shine — he didn’t just work off the calories, he transformed himself into a locomotive of commitment.
I was stunned by what I saw. Seven miles. 110 degrees. After blasting through an untold number of adult beverages just hours before.
There was only one word to describe Monte — and that word was crazy.
I mostly forgot about that encounter, but I would also be reminded of it from time to time.
Many years passed.
TIPPING THE SCALES (NEW ORLEANS, LA — MAY 2011)
I remember the moment like it was seconds ago.
I’d not weighed myself in perhaps a year. So, I stepped on the scale at the Loews Hotel in New Orleans, inside the workout room. The scale topped out at 265 pounds.
That’s the most I’d ever weighed in my life. Six feet tall and 265 pounds. Size 42 waist. Size 52 coat.
That was a shocking number. I’m not sure why. It could have been 235 or 245 or 255. I’m not sure why this number was more of a surprise than any other.
I had to do something. Anything.
It wasn’t about vanity. It was about feeling better. It was about avoiding becoming a living (or worse — dying) replica of Santa Claus.
Over the next several months, I tried out a few diets. I attempted to cut down on the heavy meals, and the snacks, and the desserts, and the booze. But nothing worked. When I tried to starve myself, I would start having food fantasies. Most men dream amorous thoughts. Well, instead of tits and ass — I dreamed hot fudge sundaes, bags of potato chips, and half gallons of ice cream. A vist to Cold Stone Creamery was as good as a blow job.
I was such a failure. Whenever I lost a few pounds, I’d just as quickly pack it back on. Months passed.
By December and the end of 2011, I stepped on a scale again. This time, the scale read “262 pounds.” I was one visit to a steakhouse away from where I had started.
What was my destiny? A bookmaker would have made diabetes about a 3 to 2 favorite over a heart attack.
I was just five weeks from my 50th birthday.
TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA (LOS ANGELES, CA — JANUARY 2012)
A lot of things came together towards the end of 2011. Perhaps the pending inevitabily to turning five decades old. Perhaps the frustration of trying and failing to get into shape over the previous year. Perhaps just a sense of wanting to prove to myself that I could accomplish something. Maybe it was a mid-life crisis.
All I knew was — the winter of the new year was a perfect time for creating some major changes in my life and making a new commitment.
But this new program, this uncharted journey, this bold struggle, would not be about denial. To the contrary. This would be about living life to the very fullest and making every waking second count.
I tend to think a lot and reflect. Perhaps I do this too much. But something triggered a flashback to my encounter with Monte some 12 years ago. I’d seen Monte several times since. I never bothered even once to share with him the impact his daily run in the Vegas heat had on me a very long time ago. Over the past decade, I witnessed how Monte seemed to stay relatively fit, but also enjoyed food and drink — every bite and sip — as much as I did.
I decided to try out what I secretly would come to call “the Monte Diet.”
That first run the day after New Years along the aqueducts around the Bell Gardens section of Los Angeles was torture. Read More Here: THREE DOGS AND A MEXICAN (PART 1) and THREE DOGS AND A MEXICAN (PART 2)
After those first couple of runs, my ankles hurt so badly, I considered quitting. But determined as I was, I ran through the pain. And, gradually the pains went away. Then, the following month, I started running longer distances. I started to suffer severe leg cramps — especially at night. They got so bad I had to wake up from sleeping and take hot showers. Anyone who has ever endured a leg cramp knows of the intense pain. It’s excruciating. Over the next few months, I endured cramps in my feet, my ankles, and my legs. There were mornings when I hd trouble getting out of bed. I sometimes walked around with a limp. What I was doing was shock therapy to the body.
But I continued to run every single day. No matter what. No excuses.
FULL CIRCLE (NEW ORLEANS, LA — MAY 2012)
New Orleans might be the worst city in America for someone on a diet. The reasons are obvious. It’s the greatest culinary city in America. It’s always “Happy Hour” in The Big Easy.
By this time I knew what I was doing was working. I was starting to see results.
And so, two weeks in New Orleans would not be a time of relapse. I made a decision that I would not deny myself what I enjoyed. Food and drink are two of the great pleasures of life and there’s no way in hell I’m going to skip the parade of delicacies I yearn to try and the lubrication of delights that come in 750 ml bottles.
When I began running, I vowed to eat and drink as much as I wanted. I would deny myself nothing. Five-course meals — bring them on. Desserts — show me the menu. Bread and real butter — bring a refill. Then, I happened to be blessed with a wife who cooks extraordinary world-class meals. This was something I would never sacrifice.
Regarding alcohol — I plow through as much as I want when I want it. A bottle of wine every day. A cocktail or two. Perhaps a beer. Never a light beer. Light beer is not allowed in my house. Never.
Which brings me to things I almost never eat (and have never enjoyed): 1. Fast food (of any kind) — it’s all poison. 2. Processed foods that come in boxes or cans — you are injesting chemicals. 3. Frozen anything — why eat frozen when you can get fresh just as cheap? 4. Low calorie anything (give me everything that’s real — including real butter) 5. Shitty desserts (if I order a dessert, it’s going to be something great and I might even order two). 6. Soft drinks (of any kind, especially so-called diet sodas — more chemicals and poison). By the way, a quick revelation here: I have never taken illegal drugs of any kind. Not once.
A few months ago, I tabulated my calories and it’s around 3,500 to 4,000 per day, largely because of the intake of alcohol. I suppose I could cut calories in half were I to keep a cap on the bottle, but that’s not going to happen. And I make no apologies. I love to eat. I love to drink. And I don’t really give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks when I boast about that. I love bars. I love restaurants. It’s who I am.
I really do believe what I just said is the key to success. My secret — if you want to call it that — is that I allow myself to enjoy, without guilt, all that I want. In turn, I work it off on what I’ll call — the back end. And that entails a ton of intense exercise.
By the time I stepped upon the same scale which has triggered my inner angst and outer panic some 12 months earlier, I had reached a state of utter contentment. I was completely satisfied. I knew the number would be flattering to the commitment I had made and the time I had put inot the effort. But this was not about acheiving a number at all. The number did not really matter. All that mattered was I felt great again and still managed to enjoy everything I wanted.
The scale showed 215 pounds.
I had lost almost 50 pounds — in six just months. And I had not sacrificed a single meal.
SUMMARIZING “THE MONTE DIET” (THE LAKES — LAS VEGAS, NV — SEPTEMBER 2012)
I’m not looking for applause here. This story is not about vanity or my readers looking to me as some kind of a role model for physcial fitness. That would be more of a punch line.
But I do think there are a few lessons here and perhaps the potential to inspire.
This blog is largely about the pursuit of alternative ideas and concepts. I’m not really interested in the status quo or contemporary wisdom. I prefer to chart my own path. I suspect that if you’re reading this, you share this sense of adventure and risk.
I will not deny myself what I enjoy — and that includes eating and drinking. I will devour what I want, when I want it. It’s that simple.
By the same token, I will never miss a day (barring travel or sickness) of intense exercise. Instead of “Eat, Drink, and be Merry,” my new mantra has become “Eat, Drink, and Run Your Ass Off.”
I’m now at five miles per day. Seven days a week.
I don’t care what my daily schedule is — I run. I don’t care how hot it is outside — I run. I don’t care if I have a pain here or there — I run.
Five miles a day. It usually takes me about 40 minutes, because there are hills which are tough on the legs.
The deed is not done. I have further strides still to make.
After all — Monte ran seven miles.
Note: Special thanks to Rodney Chen for the two photos.