In early May I embarked on my annual road trip, migrating from my warm winter haunt in the Everglades to my summer retreat in the cool mountains of Colorado. It’s a long 2,500 mile excursion in my Xterra SUV towing a 25-foot travel trailer that serves as a mobile fish camp. The first day and a half went smoothly, and then I took a detour off Interstate 95 to visit Charleston, South Carolina, where I had worked on a legal assignment for a private client some four decades ago and then again in the 1990s drafting historic preservation plans and standards. Back in the 1970s the city was struggling economically and trying to leverage its historic buildings to revitalize the community. I was more than pleasantly surprised to see Charleston looking great!
Hundreds of new apartments have been built outside the historic core, which is thriving. When I crossed over the Cooper River on the stunning Ravenal Bridge, I was greeted with a scene of hundreds of young people jogging, walking, and pushing baby carriages, a testimony to the new lifeblood of Charleston. What a great tribute to visionary Mayor Joe Riley who served the city well over 40 years from 1975 to 2016.
But then disaster struck about 100 miles north just outside Myrtle Beach. Tired of the gawd awful traffic around that ode to sprawl, I took a cut-off to get back on Interstate 95 post haste. Little did I know that I was joining a traffic nightmare created by weekend beachgoers hustling home on this narrow four-lane highway. About 10 miles up the road a young woman turned in front of me at a busy intersection. I swerved but with the big trailer in tow, couldn’t avoid her and with a sickening crunch my trip came to a crashing halt. I struggled to gain control of my rig and almost succeeded, but the trailer veered to the side and skidded into a deep ditch, then began to roll on its side. The force of the careening trailer tipped over the SUV as well. The whole thing played out in slow motion. As my truck lurched over on its side, I remember thinking “will I ever see my sweetheart granddaughter Aly, my two boys, and all the other people I care about who put up with me.” Next I remember the side air bags blowing. When it was all over, I was suspended high up by my seat belt in the SUV which was on its side. I couldn’t get out because the driver’s side door was jammed, which gave me time to think about the important lessons in life as I waited to be extricated by the firefighters who arrived from a nearby station within minutes. Fortunately, aside from a few scratches on my leg, I wasn’t hurt, and the young woman escaped unscathed as well. Of course, the saga didn’t end there. It took better than an hour to winch the SUV and trailer upright and tow them out of the way. Miraculously, my prized Hobie fishing kayak lashed to the top of the Xterra was unscathed!!
And when the mechanics at the tow yard said they could get the truck and travel trailer patched up so I could continue my journey, I foolishly agreed. They said just don’t drive over 55 mph. The thought of having to rent a truck and empty out my SUV and trailer to get back home was just too daunting to consider. But of course that’s exactly what happened a day up the road when the differential started leaking oil on the hot rear brakes, and I flew down the road billowing smoke. It took me four hours in the hot sun to transfer all the gear, etc. from the SUV and trailer to a U-Haul truck and hit the road once again, waving goodbye to my faithful Xterra and fish camp that appeared headed to the salvage yard. Now I will tell you 1500 hundred miles in a noisy rental truck so loud I could barely hear the AM/FM radio (no Sirius, no Bluetooth, no CD player) gave me even more time to mull over life’s lessons and other observations. Here they are, in no particular order.
Be a shining knight and positive influence for someone, especially a youngster. Little Aly is the delight of my life, and I’m going to do my damndest to make sure the sun shines on her all the while.
Life is so much tougher for little kids today than it was for us Boomers, and a little helping hand can make such a difference for them. Find someone and be there for them come rain or shine.
Touch base with old friends….and make amends for your missteps. For my old friends, I will thank them over a good meal or via phone for all the things I learned from them and how they enriched my life, as well as recounting the things they have accomplished that I admire so much. I’ve already started that journey with a great reunion last summer with two college buddies, but will speed it up now that I am a septuagenarian.
And for those people I may have mistreated, I will seek forgiveness and try to make amends. One such case is burned in my mind from my college days that bothers me to this day. I worked in a factory and was part of a group that tormented a big, clumsy, and generally unsociable guy just a few years older than me who was on the same production line. Last year I looked him up on line, thinking I might do something nice for him, only to find he had passed away just a few years after we worked together. I learned he was an only son. Lesson: Don’t wait.
Be tolerant and understand the other person’s perspective. Or as one of my old favorite rock singers Joe South advised, I’ll walk a mile in their shoes before I “abuse, criticize, or accuse.” What made me think of this is when I awoke the next morning it was May 6th, my older brother Tim’s birthday. He passed away back in 2000, the victim of a Hepatitis C invasion from an unscreened blood transfusion.
He was struck with Hodgkin’s disease back in the 70s and survived that terrible ordeal, but there was no screening for Hep C back then. Tim was a fine musician, certainly the most gifted to come out of the little Kansas farm town where we were raised. He taught music in college, played piano for the Washington ballet, and tutored in noted music conservatories. But he was a real oddball to say the least and ran with a ragtag crowd of local “rebels” in high school who gently challenged authority and even swore at teachers, something that young Mennonite kids just didn’t do back then–and certainly to the chagrin of his parents and younger brother. He was also a further plague on me because my mother was convinced I could follow in his footsteps musically when all I wanted to do in grade school was play baseball or basketball and fish. To my great relief, the local piano teacher took my mom aside when I was 12 and told her gently to give it up.
I also thought he was a little weird because occasionally I would see him walking down the street gesticulating as he carried on a three-way conversation with himself. Even more puzzling to me was that ran around with girls, but never dated them. Fast forward, and it wasn’t till I was in law school that I realized he really was gay. Very few came out of the closet back then. Maybe it was his license tag that read IUSEKY that finally settled the issue. As the years went by, I came to appreciate him more and more and even love his quirkiness. He was a wonderful uncle to my boys who called him Unc Tim. I also came to realize that no one would put themselves through the ordeals and tribulations he went through being gay in a conservative Mennonite town in the 60s and as an adult unless that was just who he was. I regret those years as a teenager and when I was in college telling gay jokes and even more so casting a vote in my fraternity against a smart, black star football player who wanted to join. We blackballed him not because he was black, but because we learned he was gay. My fraternity brothers and I prided ourselves on being the most progressive frat on campus, but I recall the vote against him was unanimous. I wish I could have a do over, but fortunately had the opportunity in life and business that followed to make some amends. So I’ll keep trying to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes before judging, jumping to conclusions, or criticizing.
Stay curious and keep exploring. Grow old but not up. My granddaughter Aly reminds me every day we are together how wonderful it is to be curious. Answer one question she poses and she follows up with another perfectly logical one. She loves catching roly pollies and playing with wriggling worms.
I hope she maintains that curiosity forever. It makes life fun and interesting. There’s a big world out there and a lot in it I still want to see and know more about it. And in your travels and time with your loved ones, don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself and be a little goofy. Your children may be embarrassed like mine are when I execute a perfect imitation of John Cleese doing his Minister of Silly Walks (they deserve it anyway), but rest assured your grandkids and nieces and nephews will approve with hearty laughs and squeals of delight. See video for training purposes as grandpa stages accident so Dr. Aly can diagnose and mend injuries!
The Climate may finally convince the skeptics in Middle America that it IS climate change. As I traveled through the mid-sections of Missouri and Kansas, I was astounded to see practically every river and creek full or at flood stage. Acres and acres of farm fields were inundated. In my boyhood home territory in Kansas, I witnessed land submerged under a foot of water that I had never seen flooded before. And it’s only become worse in the two weeks since with more rain and the Big Arkansas River at historic flood levels in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.
As with the devastating floods in Nebraska a few months back, little of this has even reached the national news or consciousness. The same thing seems to be happening in the Southeast where huge storm cells, deadly hurricanes, and even tornadoes, are becoming more commonplace, the weather playing out just as scientist predicted more than a decade ago. They told us as the earth’s atmosphere warms, it will hold more moisture, but when it is finally released, the storms would be much more intense. Bingo!
A Conundrum: The nation is prosperous, but the roads are in terrible shape. The huge number of big trucks rumbling down the interstates in this country are testimony to a strong economy that has slowly but surely dug its way out of the Great Recession. It can certainly be a nerve-wracking experience in mountainous and hilly states as the big rigs run down a steep incline at breakneck speed to a few feet behind you only then to have to pass the overgrown monsters on the next hill…with the scene then repeating. Thank the gods for the flatlands of western Kansas and eastern Colorado. What is even more troubling is that with the economy doing so well, our fearless leaders in Washington cut taxes while failing to keep our basic infrastructure up to snuff. It used to be a few poorer states, particularly in the south, had rough roads, but now they are everywhere, even in Kansas where blemishes on the interstate highways were a rarity. Now those so-called superhighways are an embarrassment of potholes, cracks, ruts, dips, and fissures.
The good news is that despite the bumpy roads, floods, and other tribulations, I reached Colorado without further incident. And to my delight, my little sweetheart Aly was waiting in front of Daddy’s house when I arrived in Denver, and came running and jumped into Grandpa’s arms. We spent a couple of fun days with sticker books, building blocks, in the sandbox, and at the playground.
Then it was on to my cabin in the mountains, where the rental truck was unloaded and returned successfully.
Within a week, the crumpled Xterra was replaced with an almost exact replica sporting 10,000 fewer miles.
Better yet, the trout proved cooperative on my first outing with Aly and her Daddy Matthew.
Did I mention the snow storm that hit a few days later?!? Rocky Mountain High!!