I was on Day 12 or so of the run across Texas. It was a ridiculously hot June day in Eden, a little town about 40 miles from San Angelo. I was just barely shuffling along when I heard a voice: “Hey, Gary!!!”
I had just had a similar experience. About a mile back, an old guy wearing nothing but boxer shorts had stepped out on his front porch to wave me down. “Hey! Come over and have a cup of coffee!” My brother had just written about me in the paper, so I was undergoing a short surge of roadside notoriety. But my credo has always been “Don’t drink coffee with strangers wearing nothing but boxers.” I assumed the newest confrontation was more of the same. But it was not. It was Scott.
Scott was one of the guys I worked with at my first newspaper job in San Angelo. We were all young and stupid and willing to throw ourselves on hand grendes for little money. We had so much fun. He was a photographer and an ag writer and a genuinely nice guy. He had that easygoing smile and Texas drawl that would make him a natural for the Legislature, which is where he landed for a while many years later. An accidental friend.
When he caught up with me in Eden, I hadn’t seen him in about 15 years or so. Did I ever mention I’m a recluse? And yet, barring some heat-induced hallucination, there he was. Or possibly a lawn gnome driving an SUV.
Hey, I muttered. A conversationalist, I am. He explained that he had read Rick’s column and had come hoping to find me. I have no idea how hard it must have been to track me down on an 80-mile stretch of road, given my newfound joy of climbing into the little drainage ditches under the highway to escape the sun whenever possible. (note to the kids at home: Don’t go there. They are not places you want to hang out.)
Huh, I replied. We talked for a minute. We were just outside the local Dairy Queen (yes, every town in Texas is required to have a Dairy Queen.) I thought about asking him if he wanted to go in. Buy him a Blizzard. Catch up. Talk about the old days. And the new ones. I knew he was publishing a magazine for sheep or something, and I’m sure it would have been good to see how his life had gone.
But, of course, I didn’t. I’m shy. I just murmered and stuttered and he eventually gave up. As he drove away, I thought I’d make it up to him next time I saw him. Sure.
Tonight I was editing my brother’s column for the San Angelo paper. As I finished, I looked at the story to the right. It was an obituary for Scott. He was 58. No word on how he died.
I just feel hollow. I’m left with these memories. Of his smile in the newsroom. Of the years we spent in a simpler time, when newspapers were going to last forever and $200 a week was damn good money. Of a guy in a truck on the side of the road in a little Texas town who wanted to wish me well badly enough that he spent half a day for 10 minutes. Of a friend I never appreciated.
God, I wish I’d bought him that Blizzard …