While at my friend Bruno’s birthday party in April the three English speakers in attendance ended up together in a corner speaking English, as gringos in a room full of Peruvians are apt to do. I was one of the aforementioned English speakers, the other two being one of my roommates Greg, and his girl, Jess. The conversation turned to music, festivals, and camping and as a self proclaimed expert in all three, I was naturally at ease in every area of the conversation. Greg and Jess were going to Hangout Fest by themselves and eventually I was invited to tag along and hang out. This was their first trip away together and as those events are usually a bit stressful on a couple, especially with 3 days of camping thrown in, a third wheel is always nice to have around. If not to keep the couple on their best behavior, then to just have random company at your disposal. I have made an art of being a third wheel and am in my element in those situations. Besides, Greg and Jess are an interesting pair and next to all the hanging out that would happen, to be a fly on the wall in that world could be nothing but epic.
Hangout Fest is a 3 day consortium and amalgamation of music, arts, hula hoops, hippies, sand, flip floppers, and bikini clad college cuties with their Beiber cutted boyfriends just out of school starting a summer of love before they have to enter the world, that descends upon Gulf Shores, AL in late May. An extravaganza of stages plopped right on the beach for all to drink and dance around. To say it like this implies that it is a can’t miss institution that draws in hundreds of thousands of music aficionados annually. In reality, it is in it’s second year, a festival conceived to stimulate the local economy after the catastrophic BP oil spill of 2010. Last year had a decent turnout and this year the festival sold out it’s 35,000 tickets. The sleepy town of Gulf Shores and it’s surrounding communities needs this event to be sure, but has not found the organization or man power needed to pull it off smoothly. Even so, it is a very promising festival that has brought in some great acts in it’s two years. This years headliners were Paul Simon, Foo Fighters, Widespread Panic, Flaming Lips, Warren Haynes Band, Primus, Galactic, the Black Keys, Motorhead and many others.
We would leave on Thursday and drive to Tallahassee to stay for the night. Friday would be an early departure for the 4 hour trek to Gulf Shores so we could beat the registration rush for our weekend campsite. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were the music days and we would get up early on Monday for the 11 hour drive back to Miami. I had no ticket to the shows and no real desire to get one. I’ve been to many a festival and by far, the most entertaining thing to do is watch the parade of endless freaks that file by, some in costumes for the weekend, escaping the 9-5 and some that have checked out of life full time, living the endless carnival of festivals and jam band tours, pounding the pavement on black bottomed bare feet, dousing away bodily odors with patchouli oil and the cares of the world with acid and ecstasy. These are the people that I wanted to see and meet and shoot. I would be just fine out side of the gates. Just me and my mustache cavorting with my camera. At zero hour I also found out that my other roommate Alana and her man, Crispy would be going and sharing our campsite. It was getting better and better. And who knows….maybe there would be a Whataburger siting.
The hangout chronicles will be a multiple post story so stay tuned….
Two things that have fascinated me for a long time are trains and the Amish, not necessarily in that order. Where did they come from and how do they survive? The same questions could be asked of both. In the age of the automobile and the airplane, though, the question of survival would more urgently be asked of the trains since the Amish use neither plane nor automobile for their survival. For them it’s as if cars and planes never existed. Not so for the train. Time and technology have surpassed the train but there it rolls, still surviving, thrusting along the thousands of miles of steel that still dot the landscape, laid by the sweat and back breaking labor of the many ethnicities that ran to this country for the work . It’s still a feasible means of transport. There was a time when the railroad played a crucial part in the development of America’s economy and was very instrumental in our rise to world dominance, both financially and militarily. That time is long gone. Still, Amtrak will take you (almost) anywhere you want to go. I was on a 3 day train ride and would have many questions about the Amish and trains cleared up by the time I hit Kansas City.
In 1995 I had taken the train on a trip from Kansas City to Seattle that included a stop in Los Angelas where I met my cousin for the first time. I also met her “roommate” and 13 year old son all sporting noserings and coexisting in a small apartment. I got back on the train to Seattle with my head shaved and a nose ring of my own after a day with them in Venice Beach. On the train from LA to Seattle I also got to meet Bob, a cinematographer on “Dances With Wolves” and a card carrying member of Hollywood. We shared the same birthday and spent the two day trip frequently hanging in the viewcar with a Sikh University of Oregon student named Ravmir. Bob provided the beer, Ravi provided some avocados, and I bought everyone potato chips. Ravi got off in Eugene, OR then Bob in Portland, OR which left me a little more time before Seattle to hit on the art student that had been in the periphery of our viewcar conversations while drawing in her black sketch book. The time in Seattle was spent with my friend Rachel and her boyfriend in their claustrophobic apartment. During the day while they worked I hiked the city in the rain, exploring the many markets and bookstores, slamming Starbucks coffee along the way when Starbucks was still just a Seattle phenom and hadn’t taken over every street corner in the world. The first night there they took me out for my first sushi experience and it was so good that we decided to do it each night. That trip left me with a respect for trains and although I had meant to take another train trip ever since, it wasn’t until April of 2011 that I did it again. This time I was going from Miami to Kansas city to see my parents and my sister’s family. You would think that with the miles and miles of trackage in this country, there would be a commuter train that would take a direct route from Miami to KC. But with one of the world’s most underdeveloped passenger rail systems and Amtrak, the goverment funded rail company that was assembled to fail in 1971, it just isn’t so. Amtrak takes a most indirect route from Miami to KC in 3 parts: Miami to Washington D.C. then D.C. to Chicago, and finally Chicago to KC. There is an option for the 1st leg to go to New York, NY and then to Chicago if you like.
Many countries around the world and our own citizens see our passenger rail system as majorly flawed, but it’s a wonder we have a system at all. The railroads were all built by rail companies and financed with private money in the pure free enterprise system of back room deals and pissing contests that was the 1800’s. The automobile and airplane that almost completely took the train’s place were funded in large part by our government. One of the 1st big blows to the railroad was the automobile and it’s increasing affordability and popularity in a post WWII economic boom. The Interstate Highway System enacted by Eisenhower in 1956 pushed the hubs of cities away from the rails and new services were built along this new highway to accommodate the car boom. Companies began using trucks to transport goods and many of the emerging single family units each had their own car and could now travel farther cheaper and on better roads. A few years later, another blow came from an emerging aviation industry that could ship goods and transport the public light years faster. This industry and the airports that served it were largely subsidized by the government and when the US Postal Service made the decision to utilize planes instead of trains in 1966, it seemed the end of the railroad was near, as profits from passengers had been steadily declining for decades and transporting mail was about the only thing keeping the rail companies in business. Facing criticism from the railroad companies who were demanding federal aid to keep them afloat, coupled with pressure from a nostalgic public and their representatives in Congress that refused to be the ones that killed passenger rail service, Nixon signed the Rail Passenger Service Act in 1971 that formed Amtrak and gave the rail companies a little help and a little time (4 years) to stop the financial hemorrhaging and become private again . It never did. As a stopgap measure that was supposed to be the deathbed for rail travel in America, Amtrak has managed to stay afloat. It still receives support from government and is now our only way to travel the country by rail.
The 1st leg of the trip was on the Silver Meteor from Miami to Washington D.C. This train was the little cousin of the other freight liners that I would be on later, Amtrak’s flagship liners the Capitol Limited and the Southwest Chief. This was a one level train that had a pitiful excuse for a lounge car but it did allow me to stretch out a little bit more than in the seats and besides, it was the 1st leg of the journey and I would wake up in D.C. The major stops along this route are Orlando, FL, Jacksonville, FL, and Savannah, GA. There are 2 seats in each row and for much of the trip I had the row to myself. You are not assigned a seat so it’s luck of the draw. The seats are pretty wide so you don’t have to be afraid to make eye contact with that fat person getting on. Chances are that if they sit next to you, you’ll still be comfortable unlike in a plane. For a couple hours I was next to a 40 year old man battling skin cancer that makes the 2 hour trip from Winter Park, FL to West Palm Beach, FL for 4 days each month to hang out with his buddies and get away from the “old lady.” He was on his way back to Winter Park. He sold his painting business when he had to start battling the cancer 5 years ago and he thinks it’s mostly beat. He works part time and also travels to North Carolina frequently to visit his 24 year old son and check on the house that he owns up there. In Savannah, a young Latino man sat next to me but we did not speak until early the next morning when we were approaching the D.C. station. He and his wife commute from Savannah to D.C. each week for work, he going up Monday through Friday, her Tuesday through Saturday. They have Sunday together with their 2 kids before he has to catch the 9pm train in Savannah to start the work week all over again. Rolling into D.C. I thought about the day ahead and what I would do. That wore me out and after a while I decided to do what I always do: wing it.
The heyday of passenger rail service coincided with the prominence of the Beaux Arts style of architecture. Grandiose stations were built to reorganize and house an antiquated system of competing tracks and make the experience of rail travel safer and more efficient than ever for the passenger. These Union Stations are marvelous architectural achievements. They have to be seen to be believed and time spent there will reveal the ghosts of travelers past and help you to understand why a public in 1971 would feel a nostalgia to preserve and save the trains. I would be passing through 3 of the greatest of these stations:Washington D.C. Union Station, Chicago Union Station, and Kansas City Union Station.
In 1901, The Pennsylvania Railroad and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, 2 of the largest railroads decided to construct a new station in Washington D.C. which meant that tracks would be removed from the National Mall and housed in the new station, giving the city it’s solution to the dilemma of how to make the National Mall a monument worthy of a world power. Daniel Burnham was commissioned to design the station and the Beaux Arts masterpiece was completed and opened in 1907. Today, 32 million visitors pass through the station each year and it holds the central offices of Amtrak. The layover in DC was 8 hours and Union Station is a 10 minute walk to the National Mall, passing the US Capitol building on the way. 8 hours in DC is only enough time if you don’t plan on hitting any of the museums but I had plenty of time to see what was happening in our capitol and not enough money to get into any trouble.
After the day in D.C. I settled into my seat for the 27 hour Washington D.C. to Chicago leg and made small talk with my neighbor, a recent college grad from Melbourne, FL that had studied IT in hopes of landing a job with the dying NASA complex along the shores of Cape Canaveral. The once flourishing area has been steadily decaying and the economic downturn has affected the area significantly so she was traveling to Seattle to see her uncle and figure things out. Unlike the Silver Meteor this train had a central car called the viewing car. The bottom level is the snack area and the top level is almost entirely glass, lined with swivel chairs and tables that face the massive windows giving you an area to stretch out and see the outside world roll by. the viewcars are the place to be and it is here that you hear the best stories so after a day of walking around solo I positioned myself up there pretty early. There is no telling what you will see and hear and you are only limited by whatever level of engagement you wish to immerse yourself in. This can be all or none. I typically take the fly on the wall approach at first and pace myself trying to choose which, if any, people to talk to just so I don’t get sucked into that one crazy conversation with a “latcher”. Sometimes you get into those conversations despite your best tactics to avoid them. You are stuck with these people for hours upon hours, which is why I always bring my headphones.
There was a boy that was walking up and down the aisles of the view car talking with other passengers like a little man about town. Occasionally he would stop and sit next to his mother, who appeared to be mid thirties. She had brown skin with short black hair and it was hard to tell if she was of Spanish, Arab, or Native American descent. She had a nose piercing that contained a small stone and her clothing suggested that she knew her way around a campsite, a coffeeshop, a museum, or an intellectual conversation equally well. This was combined with an unmistakeable femininity that I’m sure had attracted many interesting, attractive suitors, one of which left her with a child. It was unclear if the father was still around but the air she gave off suggested he was not and that she could handle herself quite well and that maybe the child was all she wanted after all. She had seen alot of men come and go. The boy had no fear of approaching strangers and it was obvious that the boy was going to inherit his parents good looks. Knowing this, his mother had encouraged him to meet as many people as he could and learn from them what he could. With his natural curiosity he would sit at each table and talk for a while and then go back to be with his mother and tell the things he had just learned. His mother would pull him close to kiss the top of his head and then whisper in his ear which made him smile. Before long he would be up doing something else and mingling equally with the other kids and the adults. He never sat at my table but each time he went down the aisle would nod in my direction signalling that he may or may not be by later but that he did recognize me, a polite notion that I’m sure his mother had taught him
A body sleeps when it absolutely needs to and this can be accomplished in any location including a train but it’s difficult to get good sleep in general population. The seats are comfortable but not that comfortable so you can expect 2-3 hrs of decent sleep at a time. I would sleep in my seat a bit, go to the view car for a bit and back to my seat, continuing the process until dawn. We were scheduled to hit Chicago at 8am but I woke up early and went to the view car around 5am for the final 3 hours. Soon after, two Amish families sat down across the aisle from each other and began opening the fruit and cereal that was their breakfast. The younger girl in one of the families fetched water for the powdered milk and both families began eating, speaking and laughing quietly amongst themselves. I was seated behind one of the families, an older couple that no doubt had grown children that were out of the house doing their own thing. I had seen them the night before at the table in front of me but they were both sitting on the same side with their backs to me. While staring at the back of their heads I discovered that I could not differentiate between Amish or Mennonite and had no idea what these people were. Sure, I had seen Witness and Kingpin but I was not able to answer any of my questions regarding the matter so I turned to Wikipedia and began educating myself on the ways of the Pennsylvania Amish sects that populate Lancaster County, which is who these people seemed to belong to after matching them with what I was seeing in Wikipedia. We were in the same positions this morning. I could only see the back of his head, his hair chopped squarely above his blue collar, and the back of her white bonnet, the chin strings tied, suffocating a lifetime of hair growth that was tied in a bun under the bonnet. Observing in fascination I wondered what I would or could say to start a conversation. I’m sure the Amish probably get asked a lot of questions. They are definitely stared upon frequently and I’m sure would like to travel in anonymity just like the next person. I had a lot of questions from my research the night before but I didn’t want to intrude on their breakfast, or their life for that matter.
The boy from the night before walked out of the seating car and made his way into the view car, nodded at me and then sat down at the same table as the older couple, across from them at the edge of the seat so he was just across the aisle from the other family. He looked at them and smiled and they all told him good morning, switching to English from the Pennsylvania Dutch they had been quietly speaking in to each other previously. After a few moments he asked them if they were Irish, a question that made them all laugh. The eldest woman politely told him that no, they were not Irish but Amish, a big difference. The boy laughed too and said that he meant to say Amish and got confused but that he had Irish in his background. Over the next hour as we approached Chicago and rolled through the industrial wasteland that hugs the south shore of lake Michigan I learned about the Amish and the boy as they traded stories. The stories from both sides went great with my 2nd cup of coffee. With childlike curiosity, the boy asked nearly every question that I had for my fellow travelers. I mentally checked each question off and took note of the things that I had not thought to ask. He asked complex cultural questions like where they had come from and why and who their ancestors were and simple questions like what kind of bathrooms they used and where they got their mail. There are many Amish on trains because their beliefs do not allow them to fly and they do not own cars. They can accept rides, however, so train travel is how they get to visit other Amish communities, a typical practice encouraged by their church. There was a point in the conversation before I went back to my seat that I heard the boy telling them a story about Michael Jackson and how he thinks he read that Michael was born in Indiana before he got famous. The elderly woman spoke for the entire bewildered group when she said “Michael Jackson? we don’t know who that is.” And I then realized it was the 1st time in my life I had heard that statement. I had never wondered if there was anybody that had not heard of Michael Jackson. And now I know and can’t say that I wasn’t envious of a life that knows nothing of Michael Jackson. Or Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen and Brangelina for that matter. And still functions beautifully.
because it was 36 degrees and raining in Chicago I decided to stay in Union Station for the day until the Southwest Chief left for KC at 4:15. With so many railroads coming into Chicago in 1913, something had to be done to alleviate a clustermess of a system that the city’s overcrowded 1881 Grand Passenger Station had become. In 1913 construction was begun on a design by Daniel Burnham (same dude that designed the Washington D.C. Union Station) and completed in 1925. The new station was the terminus of 5 major railroads and to this day there are no trains that go through Chicago. They all either end or begin there. While Chicago Union Station is not on as quite a grand scale as Washington’s it is magnificent nonetheless. One of the things that fascinated me the most were the grand staircases. These have been filmed in several movies, probably the most famous scene being when Robert Deniro descends them in “the Untouchables”. Walking up and down them several times to check the weather out side the station I immediately noticed the grooves that have been worn in the steps. Looking across them you can see the many waves and dips that have formed in each step. How many million people have walked up and down these stairs? How many footsteps does it take to wear down marble?
The train ride to Kansas City was anticlimactic as I felt my hometown become nearer and nearer. The skies were grey and there was a steady drizzle the entire way that formed fog along the Mississippi. The dreariness of Chicago had made me numb. I couldn’t wait to get out of my jeans and had finally wondered why I hadn’t worn more comfortable pants for a 3 day journey. I saw the boy and his mother several times in the viewcar as I sat alone at my table listening to “(Not) Just for Kids” by Grisman and Garcia, trying to avoid eye contact with the old lady that had asked me to play cards with her when we first got on the train. Since we were all going west we had transferred onto the same train, although I had not seem them all day in the Chicago station. I had learned from the boys conversation with the Amish that they were traveling to New Mexico where his Native American grandfather lived. The boy and his mother lived in Maryland because that’s where his mother had met his artist father but they just couldn’t live together anymore so now they just lived close together for his sake. They would be staying in New Mexico for 2 months. It was somehow comforting to see them again and as I studied the mother watching the spring landscape roll by outside I wondered what she was thinking and waited for her gaze to cross mine in hopes of a nod or a smile. The boy had found 2 others his age and they were running around the train, periodically stopping to sit next to his mother so the boy could introduce a new friend. Our eyes never met and I never did talk to her and eventually I had to get back to my seat and gather my things. As the train stopped I got off to go meet my dad and the smokers got off to enjoy the small break and quickly smoke a couple cigarettes. As I walked towards the terminal I saw them both standing outside, next to the train door. She was not smoking but had her hand on top of the boys head and I saw him look up to smile at her and she down to him, returning the smile. When I walked by, she looked up, still smiling from the exchange with her boy and her eyes met mine briefly. I nodded and kept walking, not knowing if she nodded back but feeling that all was right with the world.
The age of railroads may be over but with the price of gas and lodging these days the train is not only frugal but the possibilities that lie in store and the chance for adventure make it too good to pass up. The architecture and scenery that you will encounter, the characters you will meet are worth it. I have several train trips planned in the next few months to take advantage of these possibilities.
My Dad and I recently set out for New Orleans like Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady in our own contrived version of On the Road. I’m sure it was just a regular road trip but my mind likes to kick things up a notch. It’s been 20 years since I read On the Road but the vision is still there. 2 guys in an old car watching the American dream unfold as they drive down the map’s grey and red roads, avoiding the Interstate and the fat families that have become the realization of that old American dream. On the Road was based on real events and Kerouac had Cassady, one of the biggest characters in American history. I had them beat as there is no bigger character than my dad. In fact, I think everyone should have the opportunity to spend 30 minutes with my dad and get his take on life. The signals in my dad’s brain flash erratically and whatever the flashes tell him is what he does, rational or not. He calls these flashes “the little chicken” and the chicken is always pecking around up there. Whenever my dad starts a conversation out with “hey Chris, the little chicken has been pecking…” I know it’s going to be a good one. He called me out of the blue in March and told me that the little chicken had spoken and that we needed to take a road trip to New Orleans and see the Brad Pitt houses. Not being quite sure what that meant I asked for a little clarification. My parents retired a couple of years ago and soon after took a couple drives down to see me in Miami. The first time they drove here from Kansas and stayed a week. Wanting to take “the scenic route” back, they drove up the Eastern seaboard into Quebec and then back down to Kansas. Go big or go home…I wonder where I get that from. The second time they drove back through New Orleans and spent a couple days there rooting around the Big Easy and taking the tours they advertise next to the free coffee in the rest areas. While there, they went on a tour of the lower ninth ward that was especially hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. Brad Pitt started a foundation called Make It Right that helped build some new, environmentally friendly houses there and the whole thing left an impression on my dad and he wanted me to see and photograph them as well as the rest of the city. I was already planning to take the train to my parents house so we would drive from Kansas City to New Orleans. He would drive back to KC and I would take a plane back to Miami.
I had not been on a road trip with my dad in many years and who knows how many more we’ll be able to go on so I was very much looking forward to it all. Totally random but I was all for it. We would set out on the back roads with sandwiches and trail mix down through Missouri into Arkansas, stopping in Memphis for the night, then waking up early to get a jump on New Orleans and arrive there around 2pm. The Beale Street Music festival for Memphis in May was going on and so was Jazzfest in New Orleans so I wanted to hit both of them and take pics of the street scenes outside of the festivals. A veteran of many music festivals throughout my life, I’ve long since stopped paying to get inside to hear what I can hear just fine out side. It’s not that I wouldn’t pay, it’s just that I’m not working right now (at a J-O-B, anyway) and besides, all the action is outside the gates. The anticipation in all the faces to get in and then the intoxication in all the faces coming out is more worth seeing than the acts and that is the slice of life that I want to capture in my camera. I had never been to Bourbon Street or the French Quarter sober (or not hungover) and wanted to photograph the lanterns, doors and whatever else I could find. I would also be able to get into the cemeteries and we would take a swamp tour. The complete freakin New Orleans experience on a dime.
We used to take road trips when I was a teenager and I raced BMX. We traveled all over the country to the national races that we could afford or to the small tracks that would hold regional events. Usually we only had enough money to stay in flea bag motels. Sometimes we didn’t even get a hotel and slept in the car, like the time we went to Gilley’s in Houston for the Lone Star Nationals. One time, on the way to Mississippi, we slept on picnic tables in a park out side of Memphis. I would be in charge of reading the map to find out what exits to take or to locate the rest areas, back before the internet, cell phones and GPS. If I couldn’t find it on the map, we didn’t get there. Or maybe we did, but the map guy was a very important position on our road trips. I never did spectacular in those bike races, but I was there. My dad was the one that got me there. On many levels it was more about the trip anyway and that’s what I remember most. I owe my life to those road trips and this road trip was going to be epic. The “little chicken” flashes usually tell my dad to eat so it was going to be interesting to see how many times we would stop and pick up 2 day old fried chicken or catfish and wash it down with those Dolly Madison fried cherry pies and a coke. Maybe we would even find a Whataburger along the way.
We passed through Missouri and Arkansas never touching an interstate and listening to Carl Hiaasen’s “Star Island” on CD along the way. Some of the roads we traversed were so small as to be swallowed by the water spilling out of the rivers that flow into the Mississippi. Twice we had to turn around to find a new route. By the time we got to Memphis we saw the flooding that all the news outlets had been reporting. I had never seen a river as big as that, a hungry river that was getting ready to eat a large city. There were concerns as to whether they would be able to have the music festival and within the week the river would reach almost record heights.
We made it to New Orleans around 2 pm on Saturday as expected and checked in to the Days Inn in Meterie, the one that connects to the IHOP. We ate as good a meal as one can expect from an IHOP and set off into the city. After driving around the city a bit my dad dropped me off at the gates of Jazz fest, told me to have a nice time, and went back to the motel. The plan was to take a cab back since my dad has no cell phone and it would be almost impossible for him to find me if I asked him to pick me up. I found many wonderful things outside the festival and ended up walking all the way to the quarter, snapping pictures and talking to others along the way. I did find that cab back to the motel and of all the cabs I could have gotten into, I got into Pal’s cab. Pal was at least 75, a native of New Orleans that had seen the world and had settled to “retire” but started driving and can’t give it up. Pal was a real character as you might expect and we had great conversation during the 20 minute ride. His stories were magnificent and he told me of a big breasted nun he befriended that had left the church for the pleasures of this world. I’m sure he had the story timed to end exactly when he pulled up to the hotel, for in true storyteller fashion he put the car in park, turned around to tell me it was a pleasure and get the fare, and asked if he could leave me with some advice the nun gave him. How could I pass that up? He then tells me that the nun had one simple motto: “drink a lot and screw more than that.” And with a wink he was off. Good advice I suppose, from a man born in a city that has taken booze and sex to a whole new level, turning saints into sinners for the past 300 years.
My dad has spent many years coasting on what seems to be autopilot and I won’t say that he’s stopped thinking or stopped trying but many of our conversations leave me wondering and he never ceases to fascinate me. There’s nothing wrong with living on impulse. Sometimes the impulses turn out to be good ideas or if nothing else they are usually fun. My dad’s impulses have largely centered around me and he has always been a father that is there for his children first. My dad’s mantra has always been that he doesn’t want to die with a large bank account and he uses that rationalization every time he wants to help me or my sister. He always finds a reason to give me a little money for something…usually it’s to help fund a crazy impulse that I have or he’ll give me $20 towards an undertaking that I am convinced will enrich my life in some magical way.
The fruit, in this case, does not fall far from the tree and I have spent my lifetime to this point studying my father for the simple fact that I begrudgingly realized when I was about 18 that I was a lot like him and would continue to become more so as the years went by. Those that have known me for a large part of my life have also recognized this fact and the last words of that conversation are always the same….”but your dad is one hell of a guy so it’s cool.” Then the conversation will always go into remembering something funny that he said, not meaning to be funny. I suppose that every boy spends a lifetime studying their father and looking to him for answers. Boys turn into men, whether they act like men or not and the men that are their fathers….well, they become older and at some point the boy realizes that his father has become an old man. If my dad is old then it means that I must be getting old too. When I got home I looked at this photo and it drew me in. A man peering out into the world from within his head, truly content with his place in it and liking nothing more than to watch it all go by and it was at that moment that I realized that my dad is now an old man, pushing 70, and these are his twilight years. It had never been so real for me and I have never imagined my life without my dad in it but that time is getting closer, even if it may still be many years away.
That night, after staring at that picture for what seemed like an eternity, I woke up in the middle of the night and for some strange reason there was this Pearl Jam song in my head that I had seen 8 months before on Austin City Limits. I have not been “into” Pearl Jam for quite some time and I only watched about 15 minutes of the show but there was this acoustic song that I hadn’t thought of since. I didn’t even know the name or the words but I remembered how haunting it was. I got up to look for the song online and found it. The song is “Just breathe” and I listened to it probably 10 times, hitting replay after replay. What got to me were many of the lyrics and to me they were about a lifetime and wondering if you’ve said enough to those that you’re lucky enough to love or lucky enough to have love you. I suppose I wasn’t thinking solely of my dad but of everyone that may not know how much I need them and how fortunate I am to be able to count on both hands the ones I love. My dad is healthy at this point but I know many people who have lost their fathers way too early. I know I’m lucky so I hope I’ve said enough to mine. It was a great trip and I’m blessed to have gone with just my dad.