In Person Voting

There is a last time for everything. In my case, the list of “last time for ….” is a lot longer than the list, “I still can ….”.

Not that I am keeping track.

This is my last time voting in a national election. Why would I waste this grand ceremony in the anonymity of an absentee ballot? That would be too easy. And too dangerous for the nation.

In the last presidential election I was in Bloomington, Indiana and dutifully voted before I left. On election night, we gathered in an upscale watering hole to watch the returns. The race was surprisingly tight. Even in a liberal university town, there were many raucous cheers for the other candidate. My preferred candidate lost and I took full responsibility. Voting by absentee ballot put the big juju on Hilary Clinton. Yes, I am to blame.

This was not the first time a selfish decision caused widespread pain. I watched the Red Sox in both game six and seven of the 1986 World Series. They lost both potentially deciding games . It was the same for game seven in 1975. I resolved never to watch a deciding series game involving the Red Sox. And they won in 2004, 2007, 2013, and 2018. My TV was black each time. You are welcome, Sox fans.

The 2020 presidential election is a pretty big deal. Nevertheless, there was a big temptation to vote by absentee ballot. But this is my time for atonement. Allison showered me up, shaved me up, dressed me up, and loaded me up. Come to think of it, she even filled out my ballot. No sense leaving anything to chance. My fingers were a bit wobbly and my eyes a bit teary. But my vote counted. I certainly want no regrets about this one.

I hope Joe and Kamala thank me someday. They should thank Allison as well.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

Since my earliest recorded history, I have been a sports nut. I followed both college and professional sports and knew my stuff. At the very pinnacle of my interest, I could recite lineups from the World Series going back to the 1950’s. Madison Square Garden had been a regular haunt. The same for Fenway Park, Boston Garden, Connie Mack Stadium, Franklin Field, Shea Stadium, and the Penn Palestra. I had even been to the Moose Lodge in Trenton New Jersey to watch professional wrestling. Bobo Brazil performed his famous coco-butt. There was a a quantity of fake blood. We screamed our approval.

It was only natural that I became a bit loopy about my likes and dislikes. I scorned golf, hated Texas football, and really loathed soccer. My cadre of sports geeks felt the same way. No one could believe that soccer was called football in Europe. That only added to our disdain. As sports fans, we were ugly Americans.

In 1991, a work assignment took me to the UK. We were opening a printing plant and I was the training director. The site was in Bromborough, located in an industrial estate on the River Mersey. It was just across the water from Liverpool. Yes, that Liverpool.

On the first day, I met the “lads”. They were all from Liverpool and didn’t speak English. At least not English that I understood. But they laughed a lot and I sensed that I could work with them. At the end of the day, we found our shared language in a nearby pub.

Over pints, they defined themselves as “Scousers” and spoke in a dialect unique to Liverpool. By paying attention, it became easier to understand. Three pints helped. That seemed to be a linguistic sweet spot. Understanding tapered off quickly from that point.

The lads were big fans of chatting, darts, and football. Less so of working. Unfortunately, our printing presses were late to arrive. We covered the basics of graphic arts, set up workstations, and created our dart throwing area. The earnestness required for the assignment began to wan. I was becoming a de facto Scouser.

Soccer was a topic of sharp disagreement. They argued for the speed, finesse, tradition, and blood rivalries. I was unconvinced but finally agreed to attend a match in Liverpool. They bribed me with a steak and kidney pie and two points of Whitbread Ale.

On Thursday we received our pre-work. Chants and songs were traditionally directed at the opposing sides. They changed based on the opponent. These diddies were imaginative, vulgar, and hilarious. I grew up a Philadelphia sports fan. Obscene taunts were old hat.

This was the era of British soccer hooliganism. Getting to the grounds required a military – type campaign. First, you had to evade marauding fans from the of opposing team. An armored personnel vehicle was in the center of each intersection. Pubs were closed for miles around. Surprisingly, everyone was quite chipper. That old Scouser mentality was on full display.

The stands were packed. Seats were incredibly narrow. It didn’t matter, no one was going to sit. Fans from Coventry were packed in and surrounded by yellow-jacketed bobbies. This was Yankees – Red Sox on speed.

Suddenly, things quieted down and music started. It was The Gerry and the Pacemakers song, “You Will Never Walk Alone”. Immediately 50,000 invoices joined. There was a pulsating ocean of red banners, flags, and scarfs. No printed lyrics needed. It was the anthem of Liverpool.

The match was extraordinary. I was surrounded by fans who were knowledgeable, sober, and vociferous in their hatred for Coventry. They sang, chanted, and cheered each Liverpool attack. A missed opportunity evoked a collective moan. They were of a single voice. Mine was included.

No one left after the final whistle. Players saluted the fans and exchanged jerseys with the other team. I was struck by the collective passion of fans, coaches, and players. The lads were pleased. They had won a transatlantic battle.

A few days later I was at my local pub. Paddy, the innkeeper, asked about the trip to the match. A number of patrons leaned in to hear my response. I bought the house a round. How else could I admit defeat in a room full of Scousers?

I have a new passion for Liverpool FC. They play brilliant football and the action never stops. The fans chant, wave banners and hurl taunts at the other side. They still never sit. They’re my people and I do get a wee bit weepy when they sing our song.

I wish the lads could see me now.

Copy and paste in your browser: https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-domaindev-st_emea&hsimp=yhs-st_emea&hspart=domaindev&p=you%27ll+never+walk+alone+liverpool+fc#id=1&vid=413d3f4ff24451314b2744dbc1d23ed4&action=click

2 – Wheel Drive

Our 21st birthday is considered a red-letter event. It is alleged to be the transitional pause in the continuum of child to adult. Memories of my twenty-first birthday included an abscessed tooth and a hangover. But 21 reversed becomes 12. That was my red-letter year. As with everything regarding my childhood, perspective is required.

For starters, I transitioned from the Hardy Boys to John Steinbeck, held hands with a girl, and entered an uncomfortable relationship with puberty. A ferocious bad temper finally became an asset. I started at linebacker on a midget football team. It was the dawn of political awareness. I rocked a Barry Goldwater button for several weeks after his crushing defeat to LBJ. Politics or sports; I knew how to support a loser.

This was the year that I became a true bicyclist. It started with a trip to a bicycle shop in Trenton, New Jersey. I picked out a black Schwinn Typhoon. My father peeled 26 bucks from his ever-present wad of cash and the bike was mine. It had balloon tires and coaster brakes. (My brother Ken had an English 3-speed. I didn’t care. He was always more sophisticated.) The Typhoon was perfect for me. It was durable and could accommodate a basket. It was my freedom machine.

I rode everywhere. It was a 7 1/2 mile round-trip to Brookside Swim Club. I made that trip at least twice a day. A McDonald’s opened nearby. Burgers were $0.15. Living large took a buck. And I was flush with money due to the hardest job I ever had. With my Schwinn, I became a paperboy. My route was a winding 5 mile circuit. It was not easy. In the winter, the sun set at 5 o’clock. I normally got home at 6 o’clock. That is one hour in the darkness at rush hour. No lights, no helmet, and no parent driver. How did I survive?

For high school graduation I received a Schwinn Varsity 10-speed. This was my commuter bike. I had a life-guarding gig several towns away. It was a 15 mile round-trip in heavy suburban traffic. I road like a maniac. Eighteen-year-olds ride with a sense of immortality.

At age 35, the triathlon bug grabbed hold. I was back on the bike, this time peddling with a mindless sense of purpose. Once again, I rode everywhere. Back-and-forth to work, training rides over local hilltops, and to secluded ponds for a swim. After a mile in the water it was back on the bike. For all the speed and purpose something was lacking. The pure joy from the Typhoon days was absent.

Somewhere around 1990, mountain biking hit the scene. I was on fat tires once again. This was a return to boyhood. Trails were discovered and mud holes were tested. With 21 speeds, no hill was unassailable. The sport required bloodletting, bike-breaking and getting lost. It fit my spirit.

No…. It redefined my spirit.

I entered my first race in 1998. I won the novice class. Within a few years, racing started taking over my life. I was pretty successful racing against other older fellows. It was during an ambulance ride that a realization of identity emerged. First and foremost, I was a cyclist. The ambulance trip was attributable to a heart attack. The identity realization was fleeting.

Riding took a mellower form. Mastering technical rock piles, slimy roots, and tight trails were forms of expression. Buying new gear was part of the same game.

Then I started falling.

Suddenly, muscles didn’t have the old giddy-up. Now I was landing on the rock piles I used to clear. It was a mystery until it wasn’t. I had ALS. My immune system was attacking my motor-neurons with the same intensity that I attacked hills. But the nasty fuckers were relentless.

Biking remained my salvation. Nimble, high-tech machines were traded for stable riding “fatties”. Allison and I rode the Northeast Kingdom. My friend Tim and I went on an epic bike-camping trip in Vermont. My grandson Wyatt and I camped and rode around Glacier Park. I left my bike behind when I headed back east. It was over.

1964 – 2017. RIP, bicycling.

But, hey. My wheel chair is pretty agile. I still have some moves.

I Wasn’t Expecting That

About 1983… Our modest home was on a street of modest homes. The street was short and steep. It crested just past the home of our neighbor, Mr. Fish. Beyond that, homes were newer and Laurel street became Winter St. One side of the hill (ours) was working class. The other side was middle class.

Our larger neighborhood was defined by steep hills and ravines. There was a hodgepodge of streets. Some terminated suddenly while others fed into main roads. The elementary school was about half a mile away. Navigation skill and sweat equity were required to reach the school. In this era, neighborhood kids were expected to walk to school.

Our daughter Lyndsay was six years old. It is an age where kids start to assert some independence. Lyndsay was pretty far advanced on that spectrum. This wasn’t by choice, she lived in a household defined by the frenetic schedules of working parents. And, admittedly, my parenting style was defined by the phrase “benign neglect”. (In my defense, my mom’s parenting style would be labeled “complete neglect”.)

It is late August and Lyndsay is being readied for the start of her schooling. There are a few new outfits that don’t include Oshkosh overalls. And of course there is an oversized backpack. The biggest challenge is prepping the walk to school. We practice this a couple of times, emphasizing safety and key landmarks. Then we anxiously await. Naturally, there is some concern about the walking commute.

The first day arrives. All over town parents take the morning off. Lyndsay is dressed and on deck early. She patiently allows her mom to wage war on her tangled hair. Her Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox is packed. It is swallowed up inside her massive backpack. All is ready.

Together, we navigate the front steps. We walk together up the steep hill and both parents pause in the shade of our lovely maple tree. This is the release point. Lindsay keeps walking and crests the hill in front of Mr. Fish’s house. She quickly disappears without a backward glance or wave. I wasn’t expecting that.

About 1985…. In a perfect world I would’ve been a baseball catcher. Catchers had the coolest gear, wore their hat backwards, and often were covered with dirt. They gabbed casually with other players and it didn’t matter if they were so-so hitters. This dream expired by the age of 12.

By the age of 30 I reconciled my athletic shortcomings. But I could still imagine. One day I was in a catchers crouch in our weedy backyard. Our six-year-old son Nolan was on the pitcher’s mound (imaginary). It was our opening day. There was a bit of snow in shaded corners but the grass was already an improbable green.

I may have sucked at baseball but I embraced its chatter. It was my duty as catcher to irritate the batter (imaginary) and bolster my pitcher. I chanted, “no-hitter, no-hitter, no-hitter”. Nolan started a rather elaborate wind-up. I framed the strike zone with my glove and awaited the pitch.

Play-by-play announcers have many ways of describing a batter fooled by a pitch. My favorite, “he was expecting the local but got the express”. In normal language: the hitter was overwhelmed by the velocity of the pitch. This can happen to backyard catchers as well. The ball arrived with stunning suddenness and landed with a THWACK. The glove didn’t move a millimeter. The umpire (imaginary) paused before shouting, “s-t-t-r-r-i -k -e!”

I was not gifted with baseball talent but knew it when I saw it. Without rising from my crouch, I flipped the ball back to the pitcher. The next five pitches landed in the exact same spot. I wasn’t expecting that.

The signals were pretty clear. My children were on a journey far different than my own. As a child of low aspiration it was easy to edge up to the low expectations of others. Their trajectory would blaze a higher arc. And this required a reconsideration of my parental trajectory. I would have to advance my talents athletically, academically, and socially to support, coach, and lead. Ultimately, I would be reaching my own modest potential by riding along on their bright journeys. I wasn’t expecting that.

Rebel Without a Cause

Oh boy, my mom had some crazy stories about me as a young child. I chose to view these tales as exaggerations or half-truths. After all, I didn’t own a “way-back machine*”. There were only my unreliable memories. So it is impossible to confirm the veracity of her accounts due to a lack of credible witnesses. But isn’t that what makes family lore and legend so provocative?

But I endeavor to know myself and believe life experience shapes identity and behavior. This is counterbalanced by another belief that behavior and identity are also designed into our factory wiring. It is the innate force that arrives alongside our screaming entrance into this world. Call it personality, if you wish.

Mom’s stories started to make sense when viewed through the lens of current understanding. Perhaps these erratic behaviors foreshadowed lifetime patterns. From this perspective, my mom might have been telling some truth. It is not always pretty and the journey of self-exploration does contain some hazards. From a meta-cognitive perspective this mess is the symbolic leftovers of our personal sausage-making.

According to mom, I was off the scale with willfulness. I was also completely nonverbal. Logic, reasoning, and threats were off the table. The poor woman had to either pull me toward, or from, what I was supposed to be doing/not doing. At home this was tedious. In public it was embarrassing. This was the era when Dr. Spock preached reasoning and understanding. Dragging a silent, writhing kid around a department store was bad form. It was definitely in violation of Spock’s gentle edicts.

It turns out that independence – seeking is one of my core values. This set off a power struggle between two epic wills. Neither side could make a case because one participant was nonverbal. Dialogue and argument were removed from the equation. This interferes with the all the rules, written or unwritten, upholding the parent-child compact.

Essentially, I was rebelling. Setting my heels was one form of expression. Another was “acting out”. I was a breaker of things, a hitter, a biter, and a surly observer of our family life. No one could unlock the code. On the spectrum of misbehavior, I was well past the classification of “little rascal”. It was no surprise that affection and attention were not showered upon me. I remained silent.

It kind of worked out. Being independent also meant being an outlier. Just enough people found this intriguing. Eventually little communities of like-minded people would gather. Ideas about books, society, and nature were exchanged. This fostered a form of thinking that placed a high value on independence. It opened up a whole systems perspective. Some people even thought I was smart.

I could think big. But I still didn’t like being told what to do. Essential connection with others never quite bonded. This led me to wonder whether my best life was the one playing out inside my head. Here, Ideas were rich and language was vivid. Somewhere between Neo-cortex and mouth it was all reduced. Perhaps I should have been a lighthouse keeper.

Listening to the river outside the window, I can marvel at the strange symmetry of life. Once again, I am becoming mute. At least I understand why. My never-ending quest for independence is taking a strange turn. Living 24/7 In a wheelchair creates a heavy independence on others. Is not the path I would’ve chosen. But it is the path that I am on.

My life will once again be internal. The jagged edges are finally coming together and I am ready to transition into the quiet. It would be great to share all this with my mom. She didn’t need Dr. Spock after all. I just needed to figure a few things out.

(*) this is an obscure reference to the greatest show ever: “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show”. A leading character, a brainy dog named Mr. Sherman, traveled through time on his “way-back machine”. You probably had to be there.

“Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”

I have a tender affection for bedtime. Many people stave off the opportunity. They fear missing out or leaving a thing undone. To them, sleep represents time going to waste.

I embrace going to bed. Rest is only part of this drive. It is also a nod to the ancient rhythms of the Circadian Cycle. Mine seem connected to sun cycles. Darkness of night whispers rest and restoration. Daylight signals wakefulness and productivity. (The definition of “productivity” is quite elastic in my world view.)I definitely fall in the category of “early to bed, early to rise”. This generally places me in the role of outlier.

Unlike most kids, I never fought going to bed even though our times trended early. Who could blame Mom for tucking us away prematurely? We were bad kids. Our constant squabbling and badgering certainly took its toll. And retiring us early provided more time to bicker with Dad. This was an expression of love in their highly – charged relationship.

Bedtime with mom was highly ritualized.There was perfunctory teeth brushing and perfunctory prayers. My goal was to get through the “now I lay me down to sleep” as quickly as possible. It came out as, “nahmahlamydowtasleee…” I seemed to be training for a career as an auctioneer. Mom cheerfully abided by this process. She wanted it over as much as I.

It was different when dad put me down. He was a fine storyteller with a flair for suspense. He once terrified our Boy Scout troop while on a camping trip to the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Dad convinced us that a colony of inbred swamp people were watching our campsite at that very moment. Even the adult troop leaders seemed reluctant to turn in. They reinvigorated their campfire several times. Dad was quite gratified by this impact. He slept soundly.

Dad affected a deep stentorian voice for his narration. He offered sound effects and proximal animal sounds. Just when you were spellbound, he would say “I’ll tell you more next time”. Dad completely understood his audience’s anxieties and wants. It was also a subtle method of control. Good behavior was translatable to tokens to be placed in a slot called “more stories”.

Mom or dad would head downstairs with the mistaken notion that sleep was in the offing. Fat chance. The twilight was my time. I sometimes read the”Hardy Boys” or Baseball Digest. My tabletop radio would go under the covers when I felt extra bold. I then tuned in the Phillies game. That radio got pretty hot. Surprisingly, no fires were kindled.

Fast forward about forty years. Allison introduced a concept of the “sleep-nest”. This was a combination of down comforter, soft sheets, antique linens, nine or ten pillows, and hospital corners. The bed was tight, warm, comfortable and extremely appealing. Windows were always open making the bedroom frosty. Indeed, a nest. My affection for bedtime grew to new heights.

Enter a new reality. ALS has siphoned away my mobility. I can’t rollover or get into bed. I’m out of the nest. A wheelchair is my new sleeping quarter. It is infinitely adjustable but clearly designed for one. No room for intimacy. Each night, a single button lays me out flat. Allison places a pillow beneath my head and a sheepskin mat beneath my feet. With a flick of her wrists, she settles a down comforter on top of me and tucks it in. Really, not a bad nest. It is built with love and brings peace. I clasp my hands together as in prayer. This is my position until the first gray light of day. Still an early riser, I rise up to face the day.

Whatever it Takes

It is 1969 and I’m amongst a picket line of hitch hikers just east of Oakland California. We are strung out along the I-80 entrance ramp. The sun is setting on the age of Aquarius and most drivers aren’t picking up scruffy strangers. Experienced hitchhikers understand this shift. We sustain a gentle competitiveness and subtly sell ourselves. My marketing plan is straightforward. I am single, traveling light, and don’t have a dog or guitar. Traveling light also describes my wallet. Contained therein: Six bucks, a fake ID, and a drivers license.

At 17, I have thousands of miles of hitchhiking under my belt. I am more resolved then worried. 3000 miles of open road is just a puzzle to solve. At most, this is a five day trip. That’s about a dollar a day for food and drink. Sleep will be grabbed while in motion. I am entering a realm best described as “whatever it takes”.

Just three years later, the treasury is empty once again. I am in southern Colorado and have just flunked out of school. There is a big industrial sawmill on the edge of town. A skeptical foreman is eventually convinced that I am the right candidate for a job sorting and stacking lumber.

After inserting my white ass, the crew was now “only” 98% Chicano. This was the era of “La Raza”. People of Mexican heritage were no longer taking shit from Anglos. Reverse discrimination was new to me. I needed the money and survived intimidation and pounding isolation. It was a price paid for screwing up.

Each day, the work whistle blew at 7 AM. Standing in the din of whining blades, I pulled on my pitch-encrusted gloves and rounded up a deep breath of sagebrush and smoldering saw dust. It was time for my daily mantra: “whatever it takes”.

I was now in the cycle of menial, low wage labor. Over the next five years, I loaded, drove, sorted, drilled, painted, stacked, printed, and cleaned. Straight time pay never exceeded a hundred bucks per week. Nevertheless, I harbored a belief that hard work, dependability, and initiative would signal a worthiness for more. And eventually it all worked out.

Yet I continued to dance on the edge of self –inflicted breakdowns. It did not just involve money. I once mismanaged water. On a hot May afternoon, I was near the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The hike back to the rim was nine tough miles. Water and energy were low. Once again, I was isolated and in trouble.

It was a long afternoon. At each switchback I sat down and rested. On the steep pitches through the Redwall, I quietly murmured, “what ever it takes, what ever it takes”. This misadventure was due to a disregard of warnings about heat. I had done a dozen strenuous canyon hikes but always in the fall and winter, never in the baking heat of late spring. I almost became one of those dire stories used to warn away foolish tourists.

I had more resolve than brains and more optimism than ability. After digging deep holes, I always clambered out. It was both a strength and weakness. I never learned to prioritize goals, plan judiciously, or recognize my limits. A bit of crafty resolve, a dab of native intelligence, and smiling good fortune was always at the ready. Yup, whatever it takes. A lifetime of near misses was offset by missed opportunities, a general failure to advance, and a trail of faded relationships.

I write these stories with the help of voice recognition software. ALS has bound me to a wheelchair. I dribble a bit while eating and my shirt is stained with food. I might smell of urine and generally sit in a galaxy of crumbs. But this morning I made a tasty pot of coffee. It wasn’t easy. Standing was a perilous challenge and measuring beans was quite inexact. But it tasted damn good. I can still call down a ration of “whatever it takes”.

My Height of Land

My good friend Tim And I were returning from a mountain bike trip way up in western Maine. Tim is a part-time resident of this region but is a full-timer in his heart. He can fill the air with tales of of these lands, many based upon boyhood adventures. These anecdotes are rich with reminiscence and told by a great storyteller. I am always all in.

Not long into our trip Tim pulled over at the landmark known as the “Height of Land”. It is a place of long vistas, providing a close-up of Maine lakes and a longer look towards the White Mountains of New Hampshire. it is a stunning view-scape

It is also a dividing point. Going North, you return to the Rangely Lakes. Going south, you drive into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The topography defines a leaving behind and a going towards. It is unspoken that either option involves a long downhill ride.

And so this becomes a life story. I am crossing my own height of land. Looking back, I have been living with ALS. Going forward, I am dying with ALS. This is more than a change of perspective. It also reflects a different reality. Until now, each functional loss could be replaced with an alternative function. No more. I now rely upon Allison or assistive devices. This is not what I signed up for. Living in wheelchair 24/7 is not something I mind. Being a burden on others is something I do mind. Constantly asking for help sucks.

There is also a loss of connection. Allison and I communicated in our private yakkety-yak. This rich patois was a mix of slang, shorthand, and other non-verbal nonsense. It was profane and distinctively us. Now my fractured speech is a low growl. It requires an intentionality that bypasses the brain’s regions titled “humor”, “insight”, and “emotion”. Even my expensive voice recognition software treats my words with contempt. This is akin to a loyal hound leaving for a warmer hearth.

The unwritten “Book of Life” doesn’t contain a chapter called “Dying: an Eighteen Month (Mis)Adventure”. Or, “The Guide to Online Shopping for Short Timers”. I know, bad jokes. And the reality is that I still control the narrative. In fact, the book is being written right now. There are still a lot of words, stories, and the emotions tumbling around on this bumpy ride down from my height of land.

    More to come. Stay tuned.

Dreaming

My dream catcher is an erratic gatherer of small notations, marginal acquaintances, and surreal oddities. It aggregates these things and restages them in settings of long ago. Somehow, interesting stories emerge.  There is an unruly cohesiveness.

Dream experts would say that I’m not good at finishing things. Many dreams involve musical instruments that I can’t play or being underdressed in front of large crowds. It is true. I put things off until the pressure becomes unrelenting. And then I put it off further.  This story is being written while I am supposed to be producing content for a program under construction and behind schedule.

Another oddity is a longish news cycle. My dreams don’t include events of the day. Content is more likely to be mined from previous days. It is akin to eating leftovers.  It takes extra days for the flavors to blossom. I run behind in life and in dreams.

My dream catcher is kindly. It chooses not to recognize a life with ALS. I run, swim, and bike. There may be some weird distortions. But I am out there moving about even if I am occasionally bare-assed in front of a crowd.

Some guy with a Leadville 100 T-shirt boarded a flight that I was on. Dream catcher took note.  In that subsequent dream, I was a race leader. Not the wheelchair division, either. On my bike, riding with the swiftness that could only have been a dream.

There is never a disappointment when I awaken to a different reality.  I lived the life of strong and accomplished movement. It is all relative and I still have a few moves. On a good day, I get out of bed without awakening Allison and asking for a nudge. My dream catcher observes. Exiting the bed with a bit of grace will be in my dreams someday. It will a pleasant memory.

A New Set of Wheels

Within the archives of male mythology there lives a notion that men spend most waking hours thinking only about two or three topics. One topic is cars. Not long ago, my master plan included a Dodge Pro-Master high-top work van. It would be diesel powered and have a very functional camper configuration. Most importantly, it would be stealthy and enable a bit of sleep almost anywhere. Time not spent in the Pro-Master would be in a Volkswagen Golf R. The R is an inconspicuous hatchback coupe with a 300 hp motor. Even the insurance company wouldn’t know the difference.

A fellow can dream, can’t he?

Attention density is a stubborn characteristic. Even with an accelerating understanding of ALS, I nurtured these car dreams. Multiple falls and the surrender of small dignities eventually built a case for new strategies. I do now have a van. Instead of a clever camper configuration it has a wheelchair lift.  But it is stealthy.  My need for speed is appeased by a power wheelchair having a top speed of 7 mph. It is simply a different contemplation of fast lane. I will probably affix an inconspicuous “R” name badge. Irony is the root of humor. I can still have some fun.

The need for mobility is resounding.  Perhaps it started with the Sunday drives of my childhood. Each week the family shared some ritualized windshield time. My father’s good intentions waning as three boys squabbled in the backseat. Mom lit up a Kent while imploring Dad to relax. And the next Sunday we all piled back into the Chevy wagon. Perhaps this was the precursor to screen time. Passive viewing of the mid-century landscape evolved into passive viewing of some crazy ass-hole in a YouTube video.  But Dad was better than YouTube. He would swear at lesser drivers, slow down to moo at small herds of cows, and allow us to throw small bits of litter out the window.  It was even fun when he would threaten to beat his restless backseat tribe.   His humor always returned when a dairy bar arose on the horizon.

I am thrilled when Allison is setting out for errands and invites me to come along. Loading and unloading is chore and Allison does it with grace and generosity. I have become the faithful dog, encoded with an entitlement to forever ride along.  I keep my head inside the car for the most part. And I’ve noticed that strangers are loathe to scratch my ears and comment on my good behavior while awaiting Allison’s return.

And then we drive away, and I gulp in the scenery like it is water and I am stranded in a desert. It is definitely about the journey and not the destination. After all, I have the ending figured out. Until then, it is all about wheels in motion. I can even re-imagine my ten-year old self rolling through the Pennsylvania country-side. An aggrieved voice from the front seat asking, “do you kids want me to pull this car over?” I imagine my forever reply, “No, Dad. Let’s keep rolling”.