If you’ve heard this story before, don’t stop me,
because I’d like to hear it again.
~~ Groucho Marx ~~
My old friend Al Bello was, to say the least, one-of-a-kind and among my oldest friends. We met in 7th grade dishing out our own brand of trouble to our teachers and others. Al was among my small circle of class clowns, birds of a feather.
“Al” – School Days
In our quest for attention, we were especially brutal to our music teacher, Miss Morgan. I’ve come to realize, the attention we sought was our misguided attempt to make up for other things lacking in our lives. No excuses though. In hindsight I regret how we treated her and by the time I wanted to apologize she was gone. She was a fine, gifted woman and her story deserves a place of its own here in this blog.
Over a period of 45-years Al and I lived our lives separated by time and distance. He stayed in Maryland while I moved west. We managed from time to time to reconnect, only very occasionally, via phone calls. I had spoken to Al several years ago when I learned he was suffering with COPD. He was the same guy, the same sarcasm and still the jokester I remembered from our times together so long ago. Despite all those years of separation and little contact I remember thinking: losing him would be a bitter pill to swallow.
Once a year go some place you’ve never been before. ~~ Dalai Lama XIV
My life has seen some major changes in the last 2 1/2 years. Not only did I retire early but I moved here to Las Vegas in September of 2015. Strange in a way, as I had no family here and only a few acquaintances. But I wasn’t deterred, as I was assured of sunny, warm weather and I knew there’d be new friends and experiences just ahead.
Seven months after my move I left for an extended road trip in the spring of 2016. I expected to travel around 7,000 miles and to be away for 40-45 days. A long time certainly to be on the road, but I had plans, lots of them.
Tomorrow is the birthday of Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. Like Mickey Mantle from my youth, Griffey turned me back to baseball as an adult. It came long after I had abandoned the game 20 years earlier.
It began once again with the excitement of my ten-year old daughter Jaime in the summer of 1989. We were at a neighborhood 7-11 when she talked me into buying a few packs of Upper Deck baseball cards. I hadn’t bought a baseball card in years! The last were used to motorize the sound of my bicycle. They were pretty effective, but the clothes pins couldn’t keeping them from flying off! Among those new cards we found “The Kid”s highly sought after rookie card. Jaime couldn’t believe it! It was the most valuable card in the 800-card set!
I’d never heard of him, but Jaime had! Not even yet a major league player, Upper Deck somehow knew, he soon would be. Ken Griffey, Jr. was going places. These baseball cards were like nothing I’d seen before, they were a work of art, pristine, glossy… darn near perfect! His card was beautiful. He was just an 18-year old kid and I was hooked!
It was a year ago this past week while on the first leg of my long anticipated Around the USA road trip. I was cruising along Interstate 40, eastbound at 80 miles an hour approaching Winslow, Arizona.
It was nearly 11:00 at night. I’d left Las Vegas 5 hours earlier and had a long trip ahead. Other than a few stops for naps I was determined to make it to Huntsville, Alabama, still 21 hours away, for my first layover to visit family.
Weeks earlier I’d researched the routing, and possible sightseeing stops. Now, nearing the first possibility at a spot in Winslow’s downtown corridor, I was having second thoughts. After all it was late and I found myself unsure I wanted to delay my momentum so early in the trip. Would it be worth the bother?
A check of my GPS indicated it was just a mile or so off the Interstate. Had it been five miles I probably wouldn’t have stopped. Turned out it was just too close to pass by.
Things you may or may not know. Revelations and a few more confessions.
1) I was born on December 6, 1952 in a small Pennsylvania town. Despite the realization I find myself on the downhill side of life, I’m hopeful there’s more miles and milestones ahead! Craig Newmark, the computer programmer, businessman and founder of Craigslist was born on the same exact day.
2) My parents were never married and my father died when I was 2. He was 31-years old.
3) I was adopted by my father’s sister. She would soon divorce her husband whose last name I bear today. I was raised by a single mother.
4) I’m a seventh generation American. One of my 4th great grandfathers came from Germany while another migrated from Sligo, Ireland. My heritage includes heroes and scoundrels. Some of them helped shape the future of the country serving in all ranks in both the War of Independence and the Civil War. Dig deep enough and you probably have them too.
5) I am very much a proud American and a patriot. As long as I can remember that’s always been true. I believe in American Exceptionalism.