things i wish i had said, part 79

“I’m dejected, but only momentarily, when I can’t get the fifth vote for something I think is very important. But then you go on to the next challenge and you give it your all. You know that these important issues are not going to go away. They are going to come back again and again. There’ll be another time, another day.”

— the notorious RBG

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the best dog is a rescue dog

“I made up my mind eons ago that I would … also die at sixty-two. The I hit my mid-fifties and started thinking that perhaps I’m being a bit harsh. Now that I’ve scored a couple of decent guest rooms, it seems silly not to get a little more use out of them.”

— the prophet david sedaris

“I like your truck,” Mo says to the guy parked next to us.

We’re at Changing Hands, a Tempe bookstore that’s a gathering spot for the small cluster of liberals and true believers in a city of 4 million. It’s a respite from the Real World; we’re overdue for a breather.

We’ve parked next to him, drawn by his patchwork quilt of bumper stickers. He’s getting his hiking partner, an old dog, out of the passenger’s seat. He’s in well-worn hiking shoes and shorts; a deep tan confirms his trail credentials.

He shrugs shyly at Mo’s compliment. “Oh, yeah. Well, it’s an old truck. I just keep putting stickers on it because it’s old.” But that’s not true. It’s a journal of his life; a celebration of his past; a proclamation of his beliefs. The truck is him.

We walk in silence for a second. He must not know for sure on which side of the fence we reside. Then Mo says, “It’s just hard not to give up hope,” which strikes me as a pretty amazing thing to say to someone you met exactly 30 seconds ago.

I think that a lot. I remember Garrison Keillor saying shortly after the election that there’s nothing much you can do. Take four years off and wake up when it’s over. But that gets harder and harder as things get worse and worse. And of course he ended up taking a lot more than four years off, so maybe he’s not the person to look to as a moral compass.

“Well,” the guy says, “That just the way it is.”

And he’s right.

His bumper stickers are a reflection of our lives. The beloved Grand Canyon. Prescott. the Olympics. Redwoods. A native American with one word: “Disobey.” Wander. Babbitt’s Back Country. Wag more; bark less. Hike Sedona. Be kind. Sabino Canyon. Bright Angel Trail. Unfuck. The. World.

Still, Mo is skeptical.

And then he says something stunningly profound.

“Sometimes you have to go through the process to understand what good is,” he says quietly. We nod silently, and that was that.

We say goodbye and go in to the store. I huddle in the corner reading Sedaris’ new book. Mo meets with her fan club in the art section. By the time we leave, the guy and his dog are gone. I’m almost certain they actually existed.

Those words have been bouncing around in my brain all afternoon. Life is like hiking. Sometimes you lose your way. But if you’re lucky, you’ll find someone eventually who will point you in the right direction again. You just have to go through the process to find it.

Hope. It’s still out there somewhere. The important thing is to never give up on the hike.

On with the journey …

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life is funny, part 382

“I feel pretty good for an octogenarian,” he says.  “A MID-octogenarian, at that.”

She stares into space while waiting for the man to finish his conversation and order. She has that look of someone who is too young to be doing this and way too old, both at the same time. The man is in no rush, as he talks with the elderly woman behind him.

“This is my pilot magazine,” he says, waving the periodical in a handful of mail he’s holding. “I get it every month. Mostly I turn to THIS page. It’s the obituaries. I go to this page and scan it to look for my name. If it’s not there, I figure it’s a good month.”

She waits expressionless as the man continues the monologue with his acquaintance in line.

“Four pilots in my class,” he says. “We always kept in touch. The other three are gone now. It’s just me.”

She doesn’t exist in his world. He’s standing at the counter and talking with another customer as if she’s not there. Her eyes are vacant; her emotions left somewhere that can’t be bought for 12 bucks an hour as the man rambles on.

And then.

She looks up across the McDonald’s. Her eyes light up and a huge smile crosses her face. She stares for a second, a rainbow of happiness on a cloudy day.

Then she reaches her hand up to her lips and subtly throws a little kiss in the direction of her glance.

Across the room is her little girl, maybe less than a year old. Peeking over the shoulder of  a man who is holding her, a little Christmas bow in her hair, she’s beaming at her mom. Her mom is beaming back.

If this were a Hallmark movie, the elderly store owner would be handing her a check for a million bucks and sending her off to happily ever after. But she doesn’t need it. She’s happy right now, this second, this lifetime.

And then.

The man finally realizes she’s waiting for his order. “Senior coffee,” he says. The smile is gone again, replaced by the resigned look of someone who’s taken too way many orders in a life that’s way too hard solely for the happiness of a little girl who’s way too cute.

She steps away to get his coffee. He  waits. The little girl and her dad leave.

“An octogenarian,” the man says again to no one in particular. “Imagine that.”

Life is funny …

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I don’t know why
The trees grow so tall
And I don’t know why
I don’t know anything at all
But if there were no music
Then I would not get through
I don’t know why
I know these things, but I do
— the prophet colvin

“Am I the only friend you have who loves trees?” Mo asks.

She has vetoed my table at the microbrewery in favor of the long row facing the window, giving her a view of the tree across the street next to the hostel. She asks if I’m cold sitting there. I lie and say no. She gazes out contentedly.

It’s been one of those days. We had set out for the Canyon del Grande to shoot photos of Rudolph and the Rubber Duck Piñata, but ended up in Flagstaff instead. We always end up in Flagstaff instead.

We ran on the Buffalo Trail. I am STILL yet to run into Sara Hall or Jim Walmsley or any of the elites who live and train here. I constantly practice my nonchalant nod in case they go by, but today it’s limited to a like-minded group of slow but earnest runners, bundled up against the piercing wind as we go along the magical dirt loop. “This is such a great trail,” Mo says. “We MUST move here.” We say that every time we visit. And still, we haven’t. Maybe.

It’s cold, which means constant visits to coffee shops. As opposed to when we’re here when it’s warm, which means constant visits to coffee shops. Macy’s is declared the official winner of the coffee-offee. They have taken down the bulletin board outside that we used to constantly vandalize. I pretend we’re not the reason.

I ask Mo why the thing I’m eating is called coffee cake. “Because you eat it while you drink coffee,” she says. Mo’s ass is very smart indeed. I point out I’m actually drinking water. She proceeds to eat the rest of the coffee cake, given that she IS drinking coffee. Note to self: Never ask that question again.

We make the Tour de Downtown, going in art galleries and the world’s greatest fudge store, and end up at Beaver Street, where we sit now. She can’t decide between my beer and hers, so she drinks both. We sit as day turns into night and the trees become shadowy figures. It’s a good day.

Is she the only friend I have who loves trees? Yes, I tell her. But then, you’re the only friend I have.

But then, one’s just right. It’s all a matter of finding the right one.

I’m a lucky guy.

Except for my beer and coffee cake maybe …

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Life is like a piñata. Sometimes you get the crap beaten out of you with a stick. But then you get candy.

Here’s to life. Sticks and all.

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and then

Every new beginning
comes from some other
beginning’s end
— the prophet dan wilson

We threw the Rudolph costume and our Macy Thanksgiving Day Balloon into Junior, the new car. We staged an impromptu mini-road trip, through the Indian reservation near us, then to 8th Street in Tempe, the site of the old Sun Club and the land of fish tacos. We ended up in the quirky downtown neighborhood in Phoenix near work where art is everywhere. Mostly, we just drove, a time for shifting into a new friendship.

The new car seemed to like the trip just fine and didn’t complain that we’re sort of weird.

We stopped for an impromptu Thanksgiving meal of street tacos and a bottled coke. A homeless guy digging through the trash can commented that you don’t see that many reindeer at the food truck. We all laughed. People get caught up in Thanksgiving menus, but a taco with lime is truly something to be thankful for.

I suppose traditions are where you find them. Sometimes you find them in a box, where a friend has swiped a Rudolph costume from your failing newspaper and sent it to you from three states away for no particular reason. Sometimes they begin in a little Honda, with that new-car smell still floating about along with Wilco blaring from the stereo.

And sometimes it’s just two people and a balloon, discovering yet again that Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful you were lucky enough to find the perfect person to spend your life with. Red nose and all.

We are grateful indeed.


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they had barely said hello
and it was time to say goodbye
goodbye …
— the prophet ani difranco

And just like that, it was over.

After 30 years, 245,000 miles and half of my life, we said goodbye.

It had become an endless exercise in futility, $500 here, $1,000 there. The cracked windshield was the last straw. Because of the rust, the body shop guy said it was almost impossible to replace, and prohibitively expensive. “It’s time,” said the guy who could have said yes and made a lot of money off me. With 7,000 bucks already invested recently and no end in sight to a long list of needed fixes, we reluctantly pulled the plug on life support.

I drove him to the SCC track for the millionth and last time, a fitting finale for the two of us. We parked in the usual spot and he waited patiently for me, with no idea of the fate that awaited. The next day, we drove to the car place. I left him there, the clear winner of my imaginary “Oldest Honda in the Lot” contest.

I patted him on the hood, wiped away a tear, and that was that.

I got my first Honda in 1978. Rick dubbed him Hondo, an homage to the mayor of Luckenbach. The little orange Civic died shortly after making the heroic trek from Austin to Phoenix, getting me to my new home with his dying gasp. He was replaced by this car in 1988. And now, the 2018 model takes over. The eighth year of decades seems to be my sweet spot for cars.

So now I have a new Honda. It has stuff like a “radio” and a “rear view mirror” and “cruise control” and “brakes” and other fancy accessories. It doesn’t leave a billowing cloud of white smoke when I pull away from a red light. It doesn’t require a screwdriver to pry open the gas cap cover. You can see out of the windshield. Technology has changed a bit in three decades. What’s an “airbag”?

But the new car wasn’t there when Mo said “I like your bike rack. It makes the car look less ugly.” Or the time we were on a little dirt road in the Four Peaks wilderness when the timing belt decided to snap. It wasn’t with me on the Dreamboat Annie Redux Tour when the brakes chose to disappear at the start of the screaming hairpin descent from the top of the Chisos Basin in Big Bend, sending my foot to the floorboard and my heart to my throat.

The new car wasn’t there when the agitated cop pulled us over, looked in the driver’s side window and sternly asked “Do you have Rudolph in there?” It doesn’t have a thousand safety pins from decades of races in every nook and cranny. It didn’t wait for us in the parking lot during our first date to the Ani show. It’s never seen the sun set at the Grand Canyon or the last copy editor walking out of the building.

And it wasn’t by my side for half of my entire life as a trusted ally in crime, taking me through my darkest days and my biggest joys.

The new car isn’t my buddy, my wingman, my protector, my security blanket. It’s just a car.

I suppose it’s part of the cycle of life. We live, we die, we move on because we must. Maybe I’ll name this car Hondo Jr. We will bond. New adventures surely lie ahead.

Still, it’s hard not to keep looking back in the rear view mirror. It’s a pretty amazing view.

Bye, friend. I’ll miss you.

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