It’s a new year. New goals, new challenges, new experiences, new dreams. A new look to the blog, and now a new post. Sorry, I haven’t been as regular with my blog posts these past few weeks. I’ve been busy working on a rewrite for a novel that has consumed time over the past year. I’ll be anxious to share more about this project as things continue. I am looking for a couple of readers that might like to get a sneak peak of the book. If you are interested in being one of the first readers of “The Sankofa Dreams”, send me a message and I’ll hook you up. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.
Andy possessed the same passion I did for St. Louis Cardinals baseball, truck stop food, and being spontaneous. In fact, Andy may be the guy that taught me the true definition of being spontaneous. I’m having a hard time remembering a planned excursion with him as I sit and type these words.
We became friends in college and lived in the same town for a couple of years after our academic careers had ended. On weekends and some weeknights, we jumped in the car to go grab a bite to eat, or drove out to the lake to enjoy the serene surroundings. On those summer nights we stood on the bank and talked baseball, movies, and biscuits and gravy. The philosophy of smothered hash browns was a sacred conversation and the source of heated debates. And I didn’t dare broach the validity of the baseball designated hitter. Doing so with Andy was a good way to ruin a perfectly fine meal or pleasant evening (For the record, I’m a National League fan in baseball–I believe the DH eliminates strategy that makes the game interesting). Andy agreed with my stance, but approaching the subject was like lighting a match to a fifty gallon barrel of oil. But I digress.
Our first major road trip was to Indiana. I don’t remember exactly how it played it out because it has been too many years. But I suspect it went a little something like this:
Me: Andy, I have some stuff I need to pick up in Indiana. You wanna’ go?
Andy: Can’t see why not.
Me: Leave after work today?
Andy: I think that would be fine.
Me: Alright. I’ll pick you up at 5p.m.
Andy: Okay. You wanna’ eat at a truck stop along the way?
Me: Can’t see why not.
Friends of our family still lived in my hometown and I made arrangements for us to spend the night there.We would have dinner, visit, and then get up the next morning to retrieve my belongings from storage. It would be a quick and simple trip, but a trip, nonetheless.
We arrived in town about 8p.m. and had a late dinner that our hosts had prepared. Linda was like a second mother. She made sure we were comfortable, and comfortably fed. She also loved to laugh. On queue, she began telling Andy stories about me from the years before college. Linda was like a friendly Labrador Retriever injected with the energy of a chihuahua hopped up on a full pot of coffee. She possessed the ability to chatter for thirty-six hours straight if you let her.
Years ago, Linda christened me with a nickname that stuck amongst family and close friends: Rickus. It didn’t take long for her to do the same to Andy.
“You need a nickname too. I’m going to call you Ando. You just seem like an Ando to me,” she said. Thus began The Adventures of Rickus and Ando.
Late that night while watching baseball highlights, we began discussing the state of Indiana and the points of interest that resided within the borders. For some reason we landed on James Dean and his hometown of Fairmount, Indiana. It didn’t take long for us to realize we were a couple of hours south. A quick trip was doable after loading my belongings into the van that next morning. That was it. That was all the planning we needed.
Fairmount is a pleasant town. The small community is situated about an hour northeast of Indianapolis. We rolled in around lunchtime, and after a bite to eat at a diner on the main strip, we visited a James Dean museum and antique toy store. A quick fill-up at the gas station prompted the next part of our journey which would later turn fortuitous.
Ando struck up a conversation with the cashier. The next thing I know, we were headed north to a cemetery on a hunt for the grave marker of James Dean. The search was easier than anticipated. We saw a handful of people gathered around a monument with cameras in hand. Absent were the dark suits and dresses customary of a funeral. It was obvious this group was fellow tourists, so we headed in their direction.
The tombstone was surrounded by mementos left by adoring fans–long stem roses, flower arrangements, pictures, and a pack of cigarettes. The monument itself was decorated with lipstick marks.
James B. Dean, 1931-1955.
Twenty-four years. A brief existence. Dean’s passion for fast cars ended life and movie career prematurely. He only lived to be three years older than Ando and I were at the time.
Standing there was a sobering moment as the brevity of life sunk in for both of us. The cemetery was calm and tranquil as a light breeze nudged the leaves of nearby trees. I stared at the tombstone and contemplated life. What were my passions? What road was I headed down? How would this journey play out? And who were the people, past and future, that would leave impressions on my existence, however long I might be blessed with air within my lungs and a beating heart? On that summer day I could never begin to fathom the impact people would have on my life; the fingerprints and organic dents they would leave on my personality and experience, for better or worse.
After paying our respects, Ando and I climbed in the van and prepared to drive back to Illinois. We headed into town and turned east on to state road 26. Just before we reached the interstate, I noticed something ahead: A small group of bicyclists wearing a familiar logo.
A year earlier I had participated in a bike tour of the Pacific Coast Highway as part of a college course during the month of January. I knew the company that outfitted our tour maintained headquarters in a nearby town. I was also aware that they led cross-country excursions, and Trevor, one of our best friends from college, had planned to participate in one sometime that summer.
We pulled off to the side of the road near a group of resting cyclists. I approached, informed them I was familiar with the company leading their trip and a former tour participant, and asked where they were headed. One of the men shared they were finishing the day’s leg and spending the night in nearby Upland, at the organization’s headquarters. I asked if they knew Trevor and if he was traveling with their group. He was. He was riding with one of the early groups and was probably setting up camp at the night’s layover destination.
“Ando, you want to drive up to Upland and see if we can find Trevor?” I asked.
“Can’t see why not,” was his answer, of course.
I love the open road. My bucket list contains a cross-country trip to be completed one of these days. I get lost in those moments on the highway. It is my safe haven and sanctuary as I pound the pavement with tunes on the radio, a beverage in the cup holder, and a cheap pair of sunglasses on my face. Liberation is found next to those yellow dashes in the middle of the asphalt.
I also find it fascinating that we can encounter the Trevor’s in our lives at random times in neighboring states. Sometimes it is easy to believe we are piloting solo expeditions on lonely roads, like pioneers in Conestoga wagons inching toward the wild west. And then we come around the bend only to encounter a familiar face in the middle of this giant sphere we call our world. Decisons like dots, spontaneous or otherwise necessary, connect us with people and places that enrich our experience. Or they provide comfort in a life, that for some, teeters on the edge of loneliness or confusion.
Here comes Trevor. He’s been traveling the same road as you. Stop and see if he has a few moments to chat. And you should listen for the faint voice that chimes in: Can’t see why not.