Jeff Polish broke out laughing when I explained why I was taking notes. We'd met in the Harrison Avenue parking lot at Umstead for a two-hour ride; so why did i suddenly have my nifty yellow Waterproof Journal out?
"It's for my 'Riding with a Celebrity' blog," I told him.
Jeff picked up his Stumpjumper from a guy who races. "It's much more of a bike than I am a biker," he said before we ventured out.
Jeff is a celebrity in a small but growing circle. He and wife Allison moved to Chapel Hill last year. A teacher (he's just begun a gig at Cary Academy) he's also fascinated by storytelling. He went to New York to catch The Moth, a monthly storytelling event that features five or six storytellers telling a 10-minute story. Storytellers have included a range of folks, from actor William Baldwin to wiseguy comedian Lewis Black for former New York Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton who wrote "Ball Four," one of the first tell-all books on the the sport. The Moth also features StorySlams, which allow anyone to tell a five-minute story. Just one catch: It's by lottery; on the night Jeff was there 14 people vied for the 10 spots.
"I was one of the four who didn't get picked," he said, sounding not unlike the last kicked picked for a pickup baseball game.
Anyway, Jeff , who is 36, decided, "Heck, I can't keep going to New York to try and tell stories; I'll just tell stories here." So in April he started The Monti, which features six storytellers telling 12-minutes stories. (At 12:01, a hippo snorts indicating it's time to wrap up.) The monthly events are generally held at the Spice Street restaurant in Chapel Hill (although this month's is in Greensboro. Jeff still needs one more storyteller, fyi. If you're interested, contact him here.
I met Jeff in May through my wife, Marcy Smith, the N&O's Literary Editor. (Yeah, I know. Me married to the Literary Editor. Funny world, huh?) Marcy told a story at the May Monti (and convinced me to tell one in June). So Jeff and I got to talking and it turns out he's a runner and biker. A biker itching to ride Umstead. As a celebrity.
Among other things, I learned:
* He did Ironman Wisconsin in 2004
* He ran the City of Oaks half marathon in November in 1 hour, 46 minutes, 20 minutes slower than his PR.
* Having one kid (Jack, who is 3), didn't slow down his training much; having a second (Dylan) in May puts a whole new perspective on parenting. (One on two — one parent on two kids — is a hard defense to sustain for long.)
* One day in 1994 he went for a 7-minute run in St. Louis's Forest Park. He felt terrible — but experienced a runner's high and was hooked. He figures he logged more than 20,000 miles in the park over the next 13 years.
* He dreams about Frank Stasio, host of WUNC's The State of Things. (He says he dreams about Stasio because he's just so good at what he does.)
* He has a Ph.D in genetics from Washington University.
* He has a really cool Garmin Forerunner 305 with GPS and heart rate monitor.
The thing I regretted from our celebrity ride: When he pulled up I looked into his car and in the passenger seat was a big Home Depot paint bucket filled with his gear. "Your gear's in a big paint bucket!" I said amused.
"Yeah," he said. "I started carrying my stuff in a paint bucket doing triathlons. I dump everything out, then I have a chair."
I gotta get a paint bucket.