Fire and Rain

Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone
Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can’t remember who to send it to

My wife got the news yesterday. The latest edition of her High School alumni newsletter had just arrived in the mail, and she was going through it when she got to the list of alumni who had recently passed away.

“Oh my God! You need to search for this,” she said to me as she sat bolt upright on the sofa. “Robert is dead.”

Already working on my laptop, I immediately did a Google search, and there it was.

My wife grew up in a Maine seaside community with Robert, he being one grade behind her in school. I met Robert for the first time during the second season I spent my entire summer there, as the friend of a friend of a friend.

Train on the Downeast Scenic
Train on the Downeast Scenic
It wasn’t long before he and I were friends.

As time went by, we found we shared several interests. We loved trains and bicycles and car racing and going to concerts. The first concert that he and I and my future wife attended together was James Taylor. Others that he and I attended included Blue Öyster Cult and The Marshall Tucker Band. My musical tastes haven’t changed much since I was a kid.

When we got our drivers licenses, we would get together and take road trips. The weirdest one was the New Years Eve that he drove to my home in New Hampshire, and then I drove my Mother’s car to Boston so we could celebrate “First Night”.

Just imagine two teenagers, in a Lemon Yellow Lincoln Continental, in the very early hours of News Year Day, at a gas station located in a bad neighborhood of a Boston suburb, asking for directions to get back to the Interstate. One of several epic adventures we took.

Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus, You’ve got to help me make a stand
You’ve just got to see me through another day
My body’s aching and my time is at hand
and I won’t make it any other way

When my wife and I got married, he was our best man. Robert was tasked with several duties by my wife-to-be. The most important was to make damn sure I was at the church for our wedding, on time and in one piece. Because if he failed, he was the backup husband.

That threat, by the way, carried over for many years afterwards.

As life moves on, it takes you in different directions. He stayed close to home while my wife and I moved north, then to the Midwest, and then finally back to Maine. During this time, we stayed in touch and met up way too few times.

Eventually, he took a job move to Chattanooga, Tennessee. A great place to be for someone who loved trains. Unfortunately, we never had a chance to go visit him out there.

Been walking my mind to an easy time, my back turned towards the sun
Lord knows when the cold wind blows it’ll turn your head around
Well, there’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground

We had not spoken in years, which was my fault. I had withdrawn from life for a while, after the birth of my first granddaughter, and then the immediate betrayal of my unconditional love for my youngest daughter by her, pushed by the “favorite” people of a bureaucratic agency and a court system so far in that agency’s hip pocket that it could not see the truth.

Thankfully, I had recently started a new radio adventure, and being able to bury myself in it kept me from losing everything. Instead of giving up, I now had something to hang on to.

Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
but I always thought that I’d see you again

With everything that happened in my life last year, I had started thinking that it was time to reconnect with Robert. It started hitting me more and more this past spring. But, unknown to me at the time, that train had already pulled out of the station.

Robert passed away on May 14th. He was only 57.

I know that we will meet again. It will be, of course, at the big train station in heaven.

Vacation

Welcome to August! As a kid, it was the month that came before we had to go back to school, and in my last post, “Takin’ Care of Business“, I described parts of the best and most epic summer vacation that my family took.

I also promised that I would write about the long and epic summer vacation trip that I took my wife and kids on, and came about mostly because of a series of misfortunes that stretched back to the previous October.

motor home
motor home
One of my sisters had moved with her family to southern California, and they did it in a motor home. Just a few years later, they were about to move to Hawaii, and asked me to fly out and drive their motor home back east.

So, out I go, and after being in an airplane most of the day, that night I started my drive back. The next afternoon, before I could get out of California, the transmission broke. I ended up spending almost a week waiting to get it fixed before finally giving up and flying back home.

A month later, the repairs completed, I headed back for a second try at driving home. This time, I finally made it out of California. Barely! Excessive heat had melted some wires and electrical connections on the transmission, preventing me from getting away from the gas pumps I had stopped at just past the Arizona line.

After being rescued and brought back to where I had already spent way too much time, the transmission guys had me back on the road the next day.

That night, not quite half way through Arizona, the driveshafts fell out. After being towed to Flagstaff, I had had enough, and flew back home again.

So, the following June, our family’s epic summer vacation began. It started the day after school had ended. We drove to Portland, and then took the bus to Logan Airport in Boston. It was a wet day and around 60 degrees when we flew out early that afternoon.

That night, when we arrived in Las Vegas at midnight, it was 98 degrees. Trust me, that much of a temperature change will get your attention!

The next day, we took a van tour to the west rim of the Grand Canyon, where we then took our first ever flight in a helicopter, followed by a river tour of the Colorado River.

The next day, we spent the entire day in the “family” section of one of the casinos. Why? Air conditioning, of course! Then it was back to the airport that night to catch a shuttle van that would take us to California, where we would get on an Amtrak train that would take us to Arizona to catch up with the motor home.

The shuttle vans were running late, but we didn’t know why until they finally arrived. Seems that Amtrak was also running late, so we had plenty of time.

When we got to the train station in Needles, in the middle of the night, we found there was no station, just an outside platform with a couple of wooden luggage holders, which as the night went on, my kids crawled around in and actually caught a nap in.

Meanwhile, there were a few local people and a business that kept checking in with Amtrak and would pass on the latest info. Very nice folks.

Finally, many hours late, the Amtrak train arrived, and we climbed on board, taking our first-ever train ride as a family.

Originally, we were scheduled to arrive in Flagstaff in the middle of the night. I had crossed my fingers that there would be a nearby motel, but it was morning by the time we arrived, so we caught a break there. Instead, we caught a taxi and went to where the motor home was.

After some last-minute fixes, we headed out to the best place to park a motor home while gathering needed provisions. Yes, we went to Walmart.

As we were about to finally leave, I noticed we had an electrical issue, so instead of leaving, we drove back to the RV repair place and parked nearby.

The next morning, they came and knocked on the door, having seen us when they came in. They made some tests, and determined that a couple of the coach batteries were toast. They replaced them, and sent us on our way.

We didn’t get far, when the electrical gremlins returned. So, we went back, and as soon as the head guy could free himself from other customers, he came right over. After some quick poking around, they figured out that some electrical thingy had failed, but they wouldn’t have it until the next day.

So, we tracked down a rental car, and off we went to visit several of the National Monuments in the area, which we would not have done except for the extra down time we now had.

They say third time’s the charm, and so it was for us. We headed south, with the idea to check out the Phoenix area.

In late June, Arizona is freaking hot in the middle of the day, especially since the air conditioner in the motor home almost quit working about an hour after we left Flagstaff. It was at least bearable when we were driving at highway speed, so we didn’t stop until we got to Tuscon.

The next morning, we visited a couple of tourist attractions until it just got too hot for us. We then headed southwest, and then north, ending up in Carlsbad, New Mexico, where we spent the entire next day in Carlsbad Caverns, where it was nice and cool underground.

Another repair to fix the blower motor fan in the motor home (which also fixed the Air Conditioning issue we had) and we were back on the road. Our next planned stop was St. Louis, where we spent a couple of days, including celebrating Independence Day at The Arch, which included fireworks that night over the Mississippi River.

The next night, we left, but had to keep an eye and ear out for the strong Thunderstorms passing through, which included multiple tornadoes. More excitement and adventure for our kids from New England.

For the rest of the trip, it was mostly uneventful, except for when a rear tire blew out in the middle of Pennsylvania.

It was a long and fun adventure. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take another one, given all our summer schedules over the next several years. But we all remember this epic cross-country trip.