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Showing posts with label story article. Show all posts
Showing posts with label story article. Show all posts

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Sit in the Grass

There I was, kneeling in the high grass under gray skies feeling defeated. All felt lost and truly the sense of being defeated was felt.

Just a few days prior to that opening line I was feeling a sense of euphoria as I had penned down a place of my own. It happened suddenly and unexpectedly, but nonetheless it looked like a lock that I would, for the first time in my life, have a place of my own and be living on my own.

The sound of the passing cars and semis on the interstate stayed constant. I watched car after car pass and I stared into empty space lost. I was alone, scared, and completely unsure of what to do or where to go, not that I could go anywhere at this point in time.

Just hours before that line I was manning a flag stand fully confident in all my movements and decisions. Life was great, easy, and fully enjoyable. This was Kansas at its finest and I was living it up. It was a brief day though as what was supposed to be a one-day event turned into a two-day as for some reason Mother Nature was not a racing fan on this day.

Light droplets of rain began to fall and I looked upward thinking, “Well, if anyone does stop at least they won’t suspect that these are actually tears.”

When the short race day was over I was thrown for a curve, as I would be taking another person’s vehicle to head to Indianapolis, where my car was parked, and the other staff would be going elsewhere. This somewhat concerned me because 1. I am always worried about destroying other people’s property and 2. What happens if I get pulled over? I’ve seen too many police shows of people driving another person’s car and getting in trouble.

Trouble? As the droplets of rain subsided I didn’t really care what happened to me. Emotionally I lost any sense of caring. It’s not like me to be kneeling in tall grass, but I was at a point of not really having a choice as my hyperventilating had gotten to a point that my vision had started to blacken.

I left the track in the unfamiliar car and was feeling rather tired after the lackluster night of sleep I had the night before. It was only two hours to Indy and then another 3.5 back home to Saint Louis. I thought that this wouldn’t be that bad of a drive.

The constant roar of cars and the howling of semis began to wear on me. It was constant, and what had seemed like days was only 30 minutes, but still I wanted to scream. In fact, I did a couple times. On the side of the interstate, with loud vehicles to the left, and a cornfield to the right, and more bugs than I cared to ever be with, my screams were not heard.

It was about 25 minutes from the track before I got onto I-70 and then, just six miles or so in, I heard a loud pop. I thought this might have been a rock that had been left over underneath the vehicle from being at a dirt track, but then my eyes were directed downward to the dashboard and I saw the tire light come on. I thought nothing of this as my car’s tire light is always on despite all tires being at optimal pressure. Then, suddenly, the car veered hard right.

What would happen if? This started going through my mind and it wasn’t helping anything. I could play that game all day long and I did. I thought back to just less than 24 hours prior when I was flagging and a car went wide in the final corner and hit the stand I was in. The impact wasn’t the heaviest in the world, but it was enough to move the stand of the concrete blocks it was on and the drop threw me back and I didn’t stick the landing. It could have been worse as the only lasting effects from this is that I learned the funny bone isn’t funny at all, but then again, what if the stand had flipped…

I was in trouble; it happened so suddenly I only had time to react. The SUV I was driving veered hard right and almost went into the grass on the right hand side. I corrected and was on the verge of overcorrecting, but I caught it. I dropped my speed down wondering what had just happened. I noticed the steering wheel had to be way cockeyed to go straight, then I heard a “blarump blarump blarump” noise and I figured a tire had gone. I pulled off, and fear set in.

After reliving the previous day’s race and wondering just how worse that could have been I thought back to how much I feared what I was going through. As a child there was a time we pulled off on the interstate and my dad popped the hood and I screamed and screamed and screamed. This was at a time in my life that I had no clue of the actual danger of this, but since it had never happened before and I had never seen it firsthand it was truly traumatic.

I straddled the grass with my car because I was afraid of being hit by a speeding semi; so scared in fact I got out of the vehicle on the right hand side. I was fearful at this point in time, but it still was manageable as I was assessing the situation. I figured it was the right front tire that was the issue and indeed it was as it was flat. This was my second flat of the year, but the first one I stopped at a busy gas station. This was a far different animal as this was a speedy interstate.

I remained in the grass, shaking, still fearing that errant semi I knew was coming. This train of thought was unbreakable. I guess there was some irony in this as just 5 hours prior I was told that I was the, “most pessimistic person in the world.” I wish I weren’t, truly, but I unfortunately remember every disaster or accident I see and I have seen one too many police camera shots of cars broken down on the shoulder being hit with a force that is unimaginable. After remembering this I regained the knowledge of why I was so far off the road in the grass because if the car got hit I wanted no part of the impact.

What to do? I was still of an able mind so I texted the head staff guy and the flurry of texts and calls began. There was no one answer. Do I ride back with someone else? What about the spare? Was there one? Yes there was, but who was going to change it? I may know how to flag a race, but there’s a reason why I am in the flag stand and not on pit road. Minutes passed and still I had no idea what was going to happen. Despite having so many people pass me doing 70+mph and having other people on the phone either by voice or text I truly was alone.

This was the ultimate metaphor to describe how I often feel. Despite being around other people, I often feel alone, isolated or rather cut off from the world. It’s one thing to live this is a metaphorical sense, but to truly be experiencing true isolation was too much. Slowly self-hatred crept in and there I was, still sitting in the grass, bitter, staring off at the “Rest area ¾ miles ahead sign” wondering just how different I’d be feeling if I had true interaction, if I had been able to limp to that rest area.

I called my dad and explained the situation and frankly stated, “How do I calm down?” I felt the tempest blowing up and all the things my dad said were said for naught. I was gone. I abruptly would hang up when others would call and I got to the point that I quit answering the phone. The last call I answered said that the race director of this series was on his way to help me, but he was 30 minutes out.

As I remained kneeling I began to doubt everything I am and this is a dangerous thing. I went down the mental road of envying everything I am not. This is the dangerous part because when one sees what they aren’t they lose sight of who they are. I was in that state. I wanted so badly to be anyone but me at that point in time. I couldn’t help the thought of that; maybe if I weren’t on the spectrum, I wouldn’t be having such a severe reaction to the events. A normal person very well might be able to go through a flat tire without becoming a shaking, hyperventilating wreck. It were these thought that led me to where I was.

A few minutes after I hung up the phone I began a slow walk towards the cornfield. I looked back at the traffic coming at me and feared as many of the semis did not move over a lane. I was truly scared and this confused me as, at some races, I am standing on the racing surface without fear. I showed one of the staff of this race a video of me starting a SKUSA SuperNationals start with me in the middle of the road on a rolling start and then waving the green while running off the track and he said, “I’d never do that, you’re nuts!” With that I do that without fear and with full confidence and in this situation I was as afraid as I could be. With that being so I walked towards the high grass and my breathing picked up even more. Faster and faster my breaths went and also to did my rage.

For several minutes my eyes did not abate from looking at the rest area sign. The sound of the cars passing became like a constant hum of conversations one might hear in a crowded store or restaurant. I hear these in public, but usually am not involved in them. Again, I thought the irony of the situation was a bit absurd, but then my thoughts took a nasty turn as I convinced myself that I was not compatible with this wide-open world. I made a Facebook post stating this and it was something along the lines of, “Why try if I know I will fail?” One thing, with that line that I was alluding to, was the prospect of me living on my own. If I couldn’t handle a simple flat tire then how on this great green Earth could I handle life on my own? Then, a familiar voice said, “Aaron?”

It was the race director. I hated being seen like this with the obvious signs of severe hyperventilating and tears, but I guess that couldn’t be helped. Having him show up was like a derailment of the thoughts that had been swirling. I quickly checked my phone and saw a text stating that AAA was on the way. To get me going on the road faster he started getting out all the tools and spare tire and the first bit of good news was seen when the spare tire was a full size and not one of the tires I personally define as, “not safe at any speed.”

Quickly we learned that it isn’t so much to have all the tools and tire, but nothing can be done when the lug nuts are essentially warped in place. Truly Rick, the race director, was jumping on the tire iron to try and loosen them up but the lug nuts were steadfast in their belief that they should remain in place. About this time AAA showed up and when the AAA mechanic tried to loosen them he said he had just the tool for the job and he went and got a really big hammer and he hammered at the tire iron until they got loose.

Within 10 minutes the tire was changed and what had been an hour of pure torture due to the external events of the flat tire, and the internal warfare that was being waged debating on if I have any abilities in life whatsoever, and what my worth is on any level, was over. With such an emotionally traumatic experience having happened I feared I would be in no shape to drive. However, I walked with confidence around the hood and waited for a gap in traffic and when there was one I darted into the car, started it up, and was back on my way.

Even though I was back on my way the debate on if I could live on my own was heavy on my mind. I then thought of the contrast I had experienced. When I flag, well, I am confident and within an hour of being in the place I feel most comfortable I was taken down a road that put me in a place of supreme loneliness. How could this happen?

I stopped to eat and checked my phone and went to Facebook where I saw someone respond to my deeply sad status update by saying, something along the lines of, “Aaron, don’t give up. There’s hard times, but remember all the people you have helped.”

That line stayed with me and when I left I, in a way, felt like I let everyone down by this episode. It wasn’t by choice that I began to panic about being alone, or being struck by a semi, or having a police officer come to my aid only to arrest me for grand theft auto, or to have a stranger stop only to rob or kidnap me. It wasn’t a choice at all. I kept trying to say that this happened because I was weak, or not good enough for the world, and then I finally came full circle and realized that this simply was my autism side showing itself.

The unknown is a scary place and being in an unknown location totally helpless is one of the greatest unknowns. As I got to Indy and got back into my car I began to let go of the self-hatred I had experienced. While that may have been the case I was still timid on the prospect of having a place of my own.

As I went through Effingham, which is about the halfway point between Indy and Saint Louis, I thought that if I do not venture out I would have nothing to say and nothing to grow off of. To be honest, while I was sitting in that grass I was ready to declare that the world had won and I was going into recluse mode and never showing my face outside again because, well, if the world is always going to play dirty and throw me curveballs, and nails in tires, what’s the point of being out there? Again though, if I don’t take the chance I will always be exactly what I am. Isn’t being human though about growth and pushing one’s self? If we accept what is will anything ever be better? This isn’t to say that we should never be happy with what is, but if we don’t accept the idea that we can always grow then, well, one will always be stay where they are.

That last paragraph was thought of and rehashed and thought of some more all the way home. Once home I got out and noticed that no one else was home so I started bringing my stuff into the house accepting full well that this house would remain my home. At this point in time I decided this would remain home. Why go out? Why rock the boat if I don’t need to? Then I walked into the backroom and noticed on my computer keyboard there was a key. This key was to my place that I referred to as the potential, “place of my own” and there it was just in the open like it was a key to an irrelevant door somewhere long forgotten. I stared at it for a good minute and took a step towards it with a grin. I didn’t throw it away, nor did I call the owner to say I was giving it back. Instead, I smiled, and placed it on my key ring with every intention of living life, growing, and keeping with the plan of having a place of my own.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Eventful Weekend and A Horse In the Fog

OH MY! This is going to be a weekend to remember and one I won't soon forget. Of course it started off last week on Thursday with that planking photo I showed, but from that point on it just go more and more memorable.

Friday was an unexpectedly long day as I knew I was flagging the .25 Little Hoosier 100, but at the end of that day's event James asked me, "Would you mind flagging the midget triple header at Plymouth Speedway?" Would I mind? The smile on my face was answer enough and I was bouncing off the proverbial walls for the next few hours anxiously awaiting what, to me, is heaven on Earth.

We got to Plymouth Speedway and I set my flag bag beside the pickup truck we were in and a few minutes later a near disaster occurred when my bag was partially ran over by another pickup truck. My heart sank and for anyone that knows me they know that my flags are my most prized possession. With tense nerves I opened the bag fearing to see torn flags and shattered sticks, but amazingly the only sign that the bag had been ran over was the dirt marks on the bag that matched the tread of the tires of the pickup truck.

As evening came the event began and all the nerves of fearing screwing up vanished. The car count was good with one division having something around 20 cars and the start of that feature, with 20 cars zooming by as I threw the green, was nothing short of pure awesomeness! I had a thought then, in that flagstand, that it should be against the law to enjoy something as much as I enjoy being at the race track as chief starter. With each checkered flag that flew though I knew it was one step closer to the event being done.

Eventually the event was over and I think that the ride back to the hotel was one of the longest rides of my life; not because the mileage was all that long (it wasn't) and not because some PowerAde was spilled (it was) but because it had been a 14 hour day flagging. To pay attention for that long takes a toll on the mind and I was a bit short fused, but we made it back just in time to get 5 hours of sleep.

Sunday morning I felt awful. It was nothing that eight more hours of sleep could fix, but that wasn't happening as the Little Hoosier 100 in Newton Park had to be ran.

Despite every cell in my body yearning for sleep I found energy. I don't know from where, but I was my usual energetic self. The day went on and still I was as enthusiastic with all my movements as usual. Thankfully I got one quick break and another person filled in and that was a good time to watch, but I went right back to flagging thereafter.

Now I've said this many time about flagging, but I wish you, if you don't know personally, could see the difference in me flagging and being out in public. I keep repeating this because it is so powerful for me. Most of the time I over analyze every aspect of life and will not act or say anything even if I want to; however, when flagging, nothing is over analyzed and action is done with precision and without thought.

I feel as if the real me is seen at the race tracks, and perhaps and presentations I do too. It is in these realms that I am not held back. I'll admit writing this, and the last paragraph has brought tears to my eyes because it is just so powerful. I've always known that I loved racing; I loved when I raced and I love what I do now, but it is more than just loving it as it is where I am free from the usual over processing my mind does and typical social awkwardness occurs.

Race after race clicked by on Saturday and later in the day I had a close call as one of the quarter midgets tried to visit me where I was standing at speed. It was a close call and those that saw it thought I was going to be hit for sure, but I wasn't phased and kept going.

An odd thing also happened over the course of the A mains as two of the winners, on their victory laps, dropped the checkered flag. This has happened before, but each time the winners did it the flag got wrapped up in their rear tire and axle. The place I get my flags, Dynamic Dezigns, are amazing durable, and I've never lost a flag on a race weekend before, but not even those flags could survive the punishment that the cars provided them as they were punctured and torn. Could they have still been used? Maybe, but I like my flags in perfect shape so for each of those kids that dropped the flag it was actually a bonus for them as I gave them the flag. For one reason or another I carry four checkered flags with me, which is a good thing, but I was told that one of the winners thought that the flag I gave them was, "The best trophy they ever received." I just hope the rumor of destroying my flag means you get to keep it doesn't start as that could get expensive.

Sadly, the event finally was over and this is the most somber of times for me as that enthusiastic person with the flags who is full of life and energy returns to the reserved, shy, and highly anxious person I normally am. This also occurs at the end of presentations as well. 

On the ride back to Indy with J.P. and Kyle I was debating on driving all the way back to Saint Louis. I was all for it and drank two Red Bulls at 8PM in anticipation of the driving marathon. 30 minutes later I decided not to drive back and I ended up staying at Kyle's. Before that, however, on the ride back to Indy we had some great conversations and I realized just how long it took for me to open up to the USAC staff in terms of socializing. What does that mean? As shy and reserved as I am, as mentioned in the last paragraph, I am no where near as bad as I was last year.

Last season I drove myself to all events regardless if I could catch a ride out of Indy and once at the track I flagged and then left the track. When offered to go out to dinner afterwards I declined. I wanted nothing to do with chatting and kept to myself. It was even harder last year at the end of the events because the difference was even more stark. This season though, after Round 1 in Phoenix, I began to open up. It took a while and this is what I have mentioned many times in my writings, is that I won't instantly open up. The amount of time it takes to feel comfortable around others is much higher than it seems it takes other people. Most people seem not to take the time to get to know a person that requires a longer time to feel comfortable, but the USAC staff I work with has taken the time and for that I am grateful beyond words.

Sunday morning I left Kyle's house and made my way towards I-70. The weather was horrible as the fog was dense. Visibility simply wasn't. Despite this I drove on fearing the worst but hoping for the best. I also at this time refused to get my GPS out as I believed I remembered the way back from the last time I stayed at Kyle's. After knowing I missed the Putnamville turn I got it out and sure enough I had missed my turn.

Several minutes after finding out where I was I came around a gentle right hand turn. The fog was even denser at this point in time and then I saw an outline of an image. I have seen this outline many times in my memories and it is something I will never forget. Without thought I swerved into the other lane and I looked to my right and there it was, a gigantic horse pulling a cart with a family in it.

It was Sunday morning and chances are our that Amish family was off to church and I came very close to slamming into their horse. That horse had to be two times larger than the horse I hit, which is how I knew the outline of the image. I don't know if I could have lived with myself had I hit that horse, or cart with the family in it, and I also thanked God that there were no cars in the other lane coming at me because I swerved without thought, not that one could see if there were cars or not in that dense of fog.

A minute later I had to stop my car as the fear rolling through my body was extreme. The flashbacks to the time I hit the horse came back, and I was afraid to drive once again. I got caught up on the fact that life is short and had I hit that horse square on it could have been cut tragically short for me, or the family. Then I thought back to the quarter midget that nearly struck me and life became a scary place. "Why ever leave the house?" I said aloud, "WHY? WHY? WHY!"

If you have read my book, or followed my blog for a while, you will know that close calls seem to follow me around. As of late they haven't bothered me, but the outline of that horse took me back to a time when I didn't work at TouchPoint and didn't have a mission in life. I always wondered why without coming up with an answer. Back then I did want to hide as how many close calls can happen if one never leaves the house?

These thoughts were racing faster than the races I flagged Friday night at Plymouth Speedway. Slowly though I came out of it as I began to think about the growth I experience being out of the house. If I wasn't willing to leave I surely would not have that realm of being able to have the energy and style I have when I flag. I also wouldn't know any of the USAC staff and wouldn't have ever opened up and have those times I socialize. Then, as the fear started exiting my body, I remembered my job and mission at TouchPoint. I have to be out, I have to travel, I have to leave the house because if I stayed at home where it is safe how exciting would my blog be? How could I present?

Extreme fear is an odd thing as in the heat of it one can forget who they truly are and parked on the side of the road I felt as if I regressed many years, but I worked through it and with a grit of the teeth I ventured onward back home. I wish my story ended there, but the weekend of oddities continued on once I got home.

Around 11:30 yesterday morning I went to Lion's Choice to pick up lunch. This is common as it is, without a doubt, my favorite place to eat. On the way home, as I was traveling on Chippewa where the road curves, a vehicle pulled out in front of me as if I were not headed there way. I know now my breaks on my car are in full working condition because I stomped on them and stopped just before striking this vehicle in the driver's door. What type of vehicle was this? Ironically enough it was a Ford Bronco. Yes, the world has a sense of humor and the fear started briefly, but as the driver backed up, without offering any sign of apologizing I might add, I drove off with a smile on my face. Some may say I need a change of luck but I disagree. You may see bad luck, but I actually had amazing luck in that I'm still in one piece and my car doesn't need an insurance claim.

Tomorrow is my 400th post and I'm have something special in mind. I am looking for LOTS of comments and LOTS of shares of it on Facebook and Twitter so please help me celebrate my 400th post tomorrow! 


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Trial by Trial

Do many people look forward to having teeth pulled? Do many people await a time they get cut-off in traffic? Do many people look forward to having a irreparable flat tire in front of an air pump? The answers on all these is probably no, so then why have I looked forward to jury duty with a passion since the first time I had it? And in fact, my first time turned out to be a sad experience.

A lot of people called me crazy, but when I got my jury summons in the mail last month I was actually thrilled. "To be part of the justice system is an honor" I would say. Two days ago I mentioned that I had an "important task" on that day and this was that task. As excited as I was, the events melted into one of the most aggravating experiences of my life.

Monday morning I arrived at the courthouse and, well, I arrived at the wrong courthouse. This was the first of many run ins with the sheriffs that are the security of the courthouses. I was simply told to go across the street (I should have remembered from my first jury duty, but it was cold and I wasn't thinking straight) so I did.

The first of many metal detector beeps occurred and I got the wand. I couldn't figure why I set it off, but every time I went through one I did and got the wand. Sometimes the officers were nice, other times a whole menu or orders were barked and I wanted to shut down just from input overload.

I entered the juror assembly room, or as I began to call it, the "hurry up and wait room". This room is on two floors and has many seats for all the jurors assembled. I found a seat in a row that had no one else in it, but quickly the room filled. I was amazed at how fast people started talking to each other as if they had known each other for years and was amazed at how people could do this. I had some reading material I had to read so I used this time constructively, but nonetheless I was speechless as to how strangers can communicate with ease.

After a couple of hours I got the need for some type of drink or food so I went upstairs to the juror's lounge. Inside I noticed a coffee machine that served hot chocolate. Not only hot chocolate, but only 50 cent hot chocolate! I was thrilled, so I got out my wallet and noticed I had no ones but had plenty of $2's. I looked around the room that had a dozen or so tables and tried to pick a person out to talk to. I wasn't comfortable with anyone so I started to think if I had time to walk to my car, which was parked at ScottTrade Center some five blocks away. I though this to be a bad idea so I then dug around my coat pocket as a last resort and there it was, two quarters!

The coffee machine poured my hot chocolate and let me tell you I do not lie when I say hot. Scalding hot would be more like it. What made it worse was that it was in a thin paper cup and there were no other aides to hold it. I quickly sat the cup on the floor and once again had a problem. This cup needed to sit, but all the tables had at least one person at it. Some tables had people talking, again like they were best friends, to some that had one person lost within the depths of a book. I didn't want to drink my hot chocolate by sitting on the floor, but I also didn't want to intrude on somebody's already claimed table. In the end the floor won as I could not ask if a seat was take and risk the wrath of whomever was already seated there. Odd thing is I watched person after person randomly sit down next to a person and nothing was said, but I still could not do it.

Hour after hour passed and my number was not called. Lunch was eventually given and I made my way to Maurizio's. I found this place in my first round of jury duty and since I did it the first time I had to go back. Not only was it routine, they also have the best pizza in America.

I got back to the "hurry up and wait room" and that's exactly what I did. My time started at 7:40 in that room and it wasn't until almost 3 in the afternoon that I got called.

I didn't care where we were going or why as I was just so thrilled to get out of that depressing room. Not only was I glad to get out, but I was the 13th person picked which meant I had a good chance to get on a jury so long as one person was disqualified and I wasn't disqualified myself.

Once we got to the courtroom the voir dire process began and I sat silently thinking about that evening's sunglasses experiment. I said nothing during all the questions, but when one of the lawyers asked me directly what I do and if I had been in a car accident I explained my work at TouchPoint and then said, "Yes, I have been in a car accident as, well, I hit a horse." This led to a round of laughter from the other jurors, and I think the judge as well, and then I was asked if I were injured and I mentioned the glass cuts. The final question was something along the lines of if the horse survived which with I responded with an elongated, "not so much." There was much laughter, but I felt the leer of a few animal lovers that saw me as public enemy #1.

Once this process was complete were left the courtroom for about half an hour and then we were called back. Would I be on a jury? This was something I wanted since the first time I heard about jury duty in 1st grade. A number was called, then another, and then another. I tried to remember the seating arrangement during the voir dire and I thought someone was picked that was after me so I got somewhat depressed, but not for long as my number was picked and I felt as if I had won the jury lottery.

Time was running short so we were dismissed for the evening and I rushed to the post office to send a few things that needed sent and made it to the bowling alley. Later, as I went to bed, I was so excited that the next day I would be part of the American justice system.

You may be wondering what the case was about and the only thing I am going to say was that it was a civil case and not a criminal case. Beyond that I don't think it is right for me to comment as it is irrelevant in my opinion.

Once the morning began we heard the opening arguments and it was something right out of a television show, or maybe a John Grisham novel. While other jurors looked bored I was intent on the mannerisms that the lawyers presented their information and watched to see how the judge reacted to any bit of information. I was having a blast.

Witnesses were called and questions were asked. Objections were given and mini-conferences with the judge were held with the two lawyers. At one point in time there were thee mini-conferences outside the hearing of the jury in a row and I thought to myself, "cue the circus music".

After lunch there was, what I believed to be, the smoking gun of the case presented to us. This element was major and could not be discounted. Aftet this the closing arguments began and they it was up to us 12 jurors to come to a verdict.

It was 4PM and in a civil case only 9 of the 12 jurors must come to an agreement to reach a verdict. A foreman was chosen and it was game on.

The talk went fast and people stated what they believed to be right about the case. I thought this would be a quick home run of a verdict and we'd be done because I was sure that what I believed everyone else did too. This was most certainly not the case and I was in shock, or rather utter disbelief.

There was a quick poll and 8 of the 12 believed it should go one way. Three others had my belief, but the debate was brutal. If you watch news shows where one side talks over the other side you should have a good concept of what the conversation was like. It was loud and without structure. I kept trying to get my word in but could not find a path to get in.

Slowly I began to get very angry with myself. Why couldn't I state what was right? My logic could not be disputed as I was right. The belief I had of this case was concrete and it became a passion, but my lips could not say anything. This was all the elements I struggle with being on the autism spectrum all at once. With many people talking I could not follow or distinguish what was said, eye contact was minimal, and I had so much to say without the ability to say it. I quickly began to hate myself.

Time was ticking and some jurors began to think about themselves over the case. The 8 became 9 and then became ten. The foreman then said that we should go around the room, one at a time, to state what we believed. I was about the fifth in line and when I spoke people listened. I went on for almost a minute stating what I believed and why I believed it. I felt I was very convincing as heads nodded in agreement, but by the time everyone had their word in my words were forgotten. I began to speak, but no one would listen. Time was on people's minds and they did not want to come back the next day. People agreed for the sake of agreeing and when it came time to offer the verdict I did not sign my name on it because it was wrong. As the paper got the required 9, and then 10 votes I felt as if I had failed.

After the verdict was reached we re-entered the courtroom and I looked straight at the railing in front of me. These moments was like a sports team rubbing in the loss. You see, when I believe something to be right I want to fight for it. When I believe something to be right I am unrelenting in my belief. I will not be swayed and even when the numbers are against me I will stay in the minority because being wrong to appease a group is, well, wrong. Perhaps this is why I had trouble with my peer groups in school, but what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong and I will not yield my belief. The bad part is sometimes we are unable to put up the words with the rapidness that others can and our words may be quiet compared to other people who speak loudly. My one minute was filled with vigor, but my one minute was just one minute lost in the hour of debate. As the verdict was read I had lost the game and I wanted to cry.

To make matters worse one side wanted a polling of the jury which meant each juror had to stand as their number was called and state whether or not they had signed onto the verdict. As my number was called I said, "No!" with an attitude I have never had before.

Once this was done we left the juror's box and went into the juror's room to get our things and leave. Here three different people came up to me and said something along the lines of, "I fully agreed with what you said, but man, tomorrow, we just had to finish it today." This was no consolation and actually made me more angry. If one believes something is right one should adhere to that belief. Caving in because of a group makes no sense to me for then how does one have his or her own thoughts?

As you can tell from the length of this writing I still feel horrible over it. Perhaps you would say that I should be proud of myself for standing firm in my belief and not giving into peer pressure, but I don't see it that way. I see it as I was unable to sway people to my belief. Maybe if I were louder, maybe if I said more the results would have been different. I don't know, but what I do know is I didn't sleep much last night and am just  bitter and angry today. The feelings are not going away and are just as strong now as when the verdict was reached.

Some may say I am overreacting, others may say that in the grand scheme of life this event was a non-event, but to me, because I had an opinion of what was right, this was a major event. I wonder how long I will replay the deliberation and have thoughts along the lines of, "If I only had said this perhaps right would have won out!"?

Friday, January 21, 2011

An ill Fated Trip to the Office

On my way to the office today I heard felt a strange sensation in my car and the vehicle veered hard right. I had a great save from wrecking and continued on, but then a car pulled up beside me and honked at me and made a gesture to say a tire was flat.

I pulled into a gas station and headed towards the air pump. I wasn't thinking anything was majorly wrong and I expected to get gas and continue on my way. Little did I know what was in store for me.

As I got close to the air pump my car started veering right again and I could feel that the tire was no longer rotating. I slowed to a stop and got out right in front of the pump. Awaiting my eyes was a smoky heap that was my tire. Some would say its life was in a better place, I would say I was deeply annoyed.

Confused, I called my dad and he informed me to call AAA. I did so and was asked if I had a spare tire. I said, "I'm not sure but am leaning towards no". I was then told a service truck would be there within 10 to 65 minutes.

I wasn't bothered at all up to this point as I figured that my car would be towed and that would be it. Sadly, I was parked in a hotbed of activity.

No later than when I hung up the phone a van pulled up and parked behind me. The driver then motioned with his hands and I put my hands up as if to say, "yes, I know, but don't you see my blinkers on?" The man stormed out of the van and came up to my window. He asked, "What the _____ ______ _____ are you doing? Move your..." This was just prelude to may day.

Even though I told angry van man that I had a flat he didn't believe me. "Where?" he asked. I wanted to say, "You have a one in four chance at guessing right." but instead walked out of my car and showed him my right rear tire which was so flat that it was no longer fully on the rim. Without offering any help at all he turned around and left.

I got back in my car and was instantly flooded with fear. The language that man used was highly offensive and scary. Obviously I didn't want to stay parked there, but I wasn't going to risk further damage to my car.

About 10 minutes later a white car pulled up and once again a driver was oblivious to my hazard lights. She flew her hands about and her passenger got out. Once again I was met with some not so nice wordage, and again I showed the person the flat and their response? "Dude, that sucks. Can you move your car now? Seriously."

I know it was cold, and I know people are sick of the snow, but did I park at the corner of angry and bitter? After two of these experiences I was ready to be towed. In fact I was thinking about just walking home and then thought better of it as it was about four miles and the sign right in front of my car had the prices charged for illegally parked vehicles. Nonetheless I wanted to be anywhere but in my car at that gas station.

Just as another person was about to get out and ask why my car was in front of the free air machine a AAA vehicle pulled up. I was confused as this was not a tow truck. First thing the driver asked was, "Got a spare?" I said that I didn't and he got mad that he was dispatched to the location and asked if I wanted a tow truck. I replied, "That's what I asked for in the first place."

The driver left and came back and said, "Your tow truck will be here between 20 and 80 minutes." Great, another hour of this. I was on the verge of tears and I just didn't care anymore. I went into the gas station and bought an energy drink hoping that it would give me a slimmer of hope. I also wanted the Jalapeno flavored sunflower seeds I enjoy, but my luck on the day held and they were sold out. I tried pumpkin seeds instead and found out they are all but impossible to get out of the shells.

No sooner than I got in my car another person neared my car. At this point in time I had had enough and was no longer looking at my mirrors or those around me. I tried to close my world to just me and the impossible to eat pumpkin seeds. This person though wanted to get my attention and he tapped on the window. I looked and thought that I should just ignore him, but I rolled down the window and he said, "Dude! Now that's a flat." I wanted to respond, "Really, I hadn't noticed." but again I held back. The man continued on, "Let me guess, you don't have a spare? Sucks to be you" and off he went.

Again, I ask, how did so many people need air and why were so many people in just an angry mood. I was coming off of such a wonderful experience in the Southeast part of the state and have never had more confidence in myself and presenting, but now I was being mocked and cursed at. I simply wanted to disappear.

If all that wasn't enough a pickup with a trailer came around the back side of the building. The driver, I could tell, was eyeing me and my car. I did not acknowledge him at all and stayed in my own little world. After several minutes the driver of the pickup honked his horn at me. I finally looked up and made a motion to say my car was dead. This made him more mad and the horn was blasted. I began to shake.

Fury, anger, sadness and any other negative emotion was being felt at this point in time. I was trapped and isolated and knew of no better way to handle the situation. I was now rocking back and forth and truly was upset.

I began to think of ways to describe what was going on as the driver honked his horn and I smiled, briefly, as I thought of my "Alias" concept. I have been yelled at by drivers and parents at race tracks and have had no emotions from it because I am simply an official. In this instance though I was myself and my mind was racing on what bad things people could do to me. These fears became more intense after the passenger of the pickup approached my car.

The man came to my window and I stayed focused on my drink and seeds. After he tapped on the window I had to acknowledge him but the times of me showing people my flat were over. I was not leaving my cocoon.

"What's wrong?" the man asked and at first I thought I had finally landed a sympathetic ear. I explained and then he said, "I'm going to have to have you move your car now." I then explained that the wheel wasn't rolling and this just made him mad, "Do I have to call the police? I'm sure they will ticket you or arrest you. Anyway, if we come back and you are still parked here we will make sure you never have a parking issue again!" If that wasn't bad enough he called me two horrible names as he turned around and went back to the pickup. I know his line was a threat, but to what degree I am unsure.

With each of these people I wanted to simply say I am on the autism spectrum, but in each case I was just a sponge to their slurs and comments. I wonder if they knew the truth if their behaviors would be any different? In any event behavior like this, in my opinion, has no place. It is behavior like this that I fear and mention in my book several times. I was over that, but now once again those fears of other people are renewed.

Mercifully the tow truck arrived 2 hours and 20 minutes after the ordeal began. Seeing it pull up was one of the greatest reliefs I have ever felt. Time flew and before I knew it I was at the car repair place. They said they'd get to it when they could, but they probably would get it done that day so I decided to walk home.

I had no ride to my house and it was only about a mile, but I sort of forgot the fact that it was single digit wind chill with 8 inches of snow on the ground. Thankfully I wore my boots and was making good time all things considered.

Continuing my odd day the next event is something that I can't believe. I was walking along and I made a step and thought I saw something move on the ground. I looked down and I was standing on a mouse's tail. I naturally jumped, almost fell, and the mouse ran away and speeds that were near supersonic. By the time I got home I was hyperventalating, was at a point of not caring, and was chilled to the bone, but at least I was home.

Later the culprit of the flat tire was found out to be a nail. I may have complained about my luck, but I was just three minutes from getting on the interstate and it's one thing to blow out a rear tire and 20, it's a whole different universe doing 55-70mph. While that may be the case I sense a fear of other people once again. Maybe I was parked it an alternate reality at the corner of bitterness and anger, but people as a whole let me down today. I try to keep this blog positive, but right now I am sad and rather scared. Maybe I am overreacting, but then again this ordeal was traumatic for me. I hope this doesn't linger too long and wish I could just concentrate on the impact I had Wednesday night. But I keep hearing it; the honking, the yelling and the, "Dude! Now that's some flat... Sucks to be you!"

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Schumi and Me (Part 2 of 3)

Race days kept me going. After my diagnosis I was depressed and alone, except on Sundays. My world revolved around those days and I put all my effort into those days. Starting in 2004 I started directing Saturday practice so it was now race weekends instead of just Sundays and it was great.

I loved getting up on Sunday mornings, really early, to catch the start of the F1 races. I only had time to watch the starts and the first few laps, but it was always somewhat motivating to watch a race the world was watching, and then go to a kart track and flag. The world may not have been watching the kart race, and Michael Schumacher may not have been there, but I treated each race as if it were an F1, NASCAR, or IndyCar race.

Then, in March of 2006, I got a phone call from someone I had never talked to. A local kart shop owner, Greg Yocom, was starting a new regional series called the Central States Super Series and he wanted to know if I wanted to be the flagman and race director.

I didn't know what to say initially. I loved to flag, but I never had been in the role of being the race director. There is a difference between the two as the race director is essentially the executive decision maker of the weekend and the primary enforcer of the rules. Also, the race director must give the driver's meeting which entails talking in front of a group.

I told Greg that I would get back to him. I liked my role as flagman because it was very impersonal as I communicated through my flags, but once in the pits I was invisible. Becoming race director would mean I would have to interact with many more people and make decisions that some would find great, while others may find to be protestable.

After a day I called back and said I would do it. The deciding factor was the travel aspect because I would get to travel around the region and be paid for it. It was a win win!

My first race as race director was in March of 2006. I drove to Greg's house as I would ride with him to West Quincy. I had seen Greg at the track during the Saint Louis Karting Association races, but I had never had a conversation with him so the 90 minute drive started out a bit awkward.

There's no better place to get me to talk than a moving vehicle and once we were halfway there I opened up and we talked racing. I was at ease, until we made the turn into the track. I realized, right then and there, that I was in charge, but I did not know how to be in charge. I had seen for over a decade what the race directors do, but now it was my turn to do it and I was clueless.

When it came time for the driver's meeting I was in a state of panic. True, unfiltered panic. I didn't know what to say, or how to say it, or whether I should say it. Thankfully the track owner stepped in and prevented a disaster.

If anyone thought I was unable to do my job I quickly put those thoughts to rest once I started to flag. People from the region that had not seen me quickly made the usual comments of, "wow, you're the best flagman..." and the meeting disaster was quickly forgotten.

My first race director crisis came when, in qualifying, a kid kart managed to flip all by himself and an ambulance was needed. The track had an on-site ambulance arranged for Sunday, but one was not required on Saturday due to the fact that it was just practice and qualifying.

The crisis was that neither Quincy, Illinois, or West Quincy, Missouri had any ambulances availible. And when they did, each side of the river thought the other side would make the run. We had an EMT on site that was tending to the kid and it wasn't serious (the kid raced the next day) but there was some neck pain so transport and immobilization was needed. Eventually, 55 minutes after the accident, an ambulance arrived.

During those minutes I was a race director that could do nothing. I felt shattered and wanted to do something, but there was nothing I could do. This was a fast initiation into the world of race directing, but I survived it and at the end of the weekend I anxiously looked forward to the next time I got the chance to race direct.

The next race was outside Kansas City and future NASCAR Sprint Cup driver David Ragan was in attendance to race. It was during this race weekend that I found my stride in my role as race director and was developing my alias. It was also this weekend that helped me come up with the title, "Finding Kansas" as my book title because after the race when I was out of my role as race director, one of the racers, when trying to talk with me, asked me, "Are you sure you are the same person as the race director I saw earlier?" That night I wrote the chapter, "Situational Handicap" and the concept of Kansas.

That same year I became the race director of the Saint Louis Karting Association and I loved the challenge that came with it. I kept my position as flagman as well because that's what I loved the most. Eye contact is a challenge for me, but as karts drive by I look the drivers in the eyes. When I want to illustarte that I mean business when I am upset at a certain driver's aggression level, or when I want to relay that there is danger ahead, I communitcate this through my facial demeanor, and the level that I am waiving my flags.



I survived my first year as race director and was invited back for a 2nd. The awkwardness of my driver's meetings disappeared and I loved every minute of the local and regional races. These regional races may not have been a touring series like the USAC National Midget Series, or other seires that people pay to see, but to me it was everything. Every race I do is the most important race I have ever been at, and these races kept me motivated while I was jobless and an aspiring writer.

In 2008 the Central States Super Series morphed into the SKUSA Central States Challenge. Tom Kutcher, the owner of Super Karts USA (SKUSA) was re-estabilishing a regional program and our series started flying the SKUSA banner.

Tom was on hand for our first race that year and this made me a bit nervous. Greg was still the runner of the series, but now Tom was the man. These nerves didn't influence me and if anything it made me more passionate because perfection had to be.

It was a perfect weekend and at the end of the day I was ready to go home, but Greg told me to stay around for the trophy presentation. This race was here at the local track so I was ready to
go home. Flagging and directing take a lot out of me because it is very physical and, with standing and walking for 10 hours each day in the extreme Saint Louis heat (and opressive humidity), I can't get home fast enought. I insisted that I was ready to drive myself home, but Greg insisted even more so that I was essentially given no choice but to stay. There was an ultimatium given, stay or I won't be at the next race.



Given the two choices I stayed, and I was confused as to why. I stood by the trophies expecting to be a person to hand out awards, but I stood there awkwardly and had no direction. I then started to panic. Was Tom mad at the way the race was ran? Had I made a bad call or had someone told him something that defamed me?

That position meant the world to me and I was worried I was about to lose it. Halfway through the awards Tom mentioned that he had a "special announcement" to give at the end. I thought nothing of this as I was in a world of self-induced panic.

As the awards came to an end Tom took the point and said something along these lines, "I've been in karting for many years and have never seen something like I saw today. I've seen passion at races, but today, well, I have found my new chief starter for the SKUSA Super Nationals!"

I was in shock. I had been to the Super Nationals the previous two years as a photographer and it is the largest kart race in North America, if not the world. There is no race bigger, and out of nowhere I was named the chief flagman for it. I went from thinking I would never flag again, to having the dream position of a karting flagman. It may not be the Indy 500, but it is the Indy 500 of karting, and five months after those words were said, I headed to Las Vegas for my first SuperNats.

The story of my first SuperNat, as well as the 2009 edition that Michael Schumacher was at, will run tomorrow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Schumi and Me (Part 1 of 3)

With the 2010 edition of the SKUSA SuperNationals starting next week I decided to rerun this story arc.

Welcome to the first of three special editions of my blog. This series is the story of how I got interested in flagging and went from a flag obsessed three-year old to flagging a race that Michael Schumacher (Schumi) was in. Parts 2 and 3 will run on Sunday and Monday.

My love of flags started early. I grew up in Indianapolis in a home that was just over a mile from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My dad was a pastor in Indy so going to the Indianapolis 500 was out of the question since Sundays were his primary work day.

My grandmother in Oklahoma City would always tape the race for me in and then send me the tape seeing that the race used to be on a long blackout in the Indy market. My first memory of the race was watching the 1987 race on tape. While most kids probably would want to watch the entire race, I kept watching the start over and over and over again. I think this could be one of the earliest signs that I remember that was a warning sign that I was on the autism spectrum.

But, why you ask, would I watch the start over and over again? It had nothing to do with the speed and danger of 33 colorful Indycars lined up in 11 rows of 3 all vying for position on the start. Nope. What I wanted to see was Duane Sweeney's twin green flags he waived to signify the start of he race.

I think it was a sensory thing and I loved it. I became obsessed with all things "flags." The colors moving about in the air was nothing short of bliss. Don't get me wrong, I loved the actual race, but I truly believe the initial hook for me was the flags.

In 1988 my dad took me to one of the many practice days at the Speedway and bought me a small souvenir checkered flag. I stood on the infield grandstand and waived that flag for the entire time I was there. I imagined what it must be like to be the actual flagman; the perfection needed and, of course, the grip (dropping a flag, I understood, was quite frowned upon!).

My dad's church was near the track, and I guess attendance was usually low on that magnificent weekend, but in 1989 I went to my first 500, and it was one of the biggest disappointments of my life. My favorite driver at the time was Al Unser Jr. and he and Emerson Fittipaldi got into a wreck that sent Jr. into the wall and Fittipaldi won the race. As mad as that made me it was not the reason I was disappointed. What made me mad was that we sat at the entry to turn two and I could not see the flagman.

Later in 89 my dad bought me my first real set of flags. They weren't big, and the sticks were fragile, but they were perfect for a six-year old. Those flags and I could not be separated on race days (or any other day for that matter) because I would flag along from home. My goal was to emulate the flagman that was actually at the race and it took some time and practice, but I became good at emulating the flagman, as well as hitting people with my flags as they walked by me. I couldn't help it, if the yellow flag needed to be waived, it had to be waived. (sorry mom!)

One of the biggest events in my life happened in 1990. Like I said, I loved the start of the Indy 500 because of the twin greens waived by Duane Sweeney. While Al Unser Jr. was my favorite driver, he wasn't my favorite part of the 500 as that title fell to Mr. Sweeney. My dad had a member of his congregation, Joan Petrie, who worked at USAC (the former sanctioning body of the Indy 500) and he asked he if she could get Duane's autograph for me.


On Thanksgiving morning she called my dad and said for him to, "Come over right away!" My dad thought it was an emergency so he rushed over and while it wasn't an emergency, it was major. She gave my dad an autographed picture of Duane (much like the photo to the right. This one wasn't the one I received, but it was the same photo. Change "John" to "Erin" and it would be the one I got) and then she said, "Wait a sec pastor, I have one more thing.

I wish I would have been there for that line of "one more thing" because I have heard my dad recount the story at least 1,001 times, but what happened next set me on a course for flagging stardom (if there is such a thing). Yes, what happened next was she turned the corner and got an item, came back into the room and gave my dad this:



This just wasn't a souvenir flag, or a set bought at the Speedway Museum. This was the real deal, his personal checkered flag. His wife made all his flags and when Duane heard about me wanting his autograph because I was a "BIG fan" he told her he was giving me this flag. She said she didn't want to make another one, but he insisted because, "He didn't have many fans." Since I received this flag I've only let winners of the race, and other key figures such as Donald Davidson, the track historian, who truly has one of the best memories on the planet!

In 1993 we moved to Saint Louis and in 1995 I started racing go-karts at the Saint Louis Karting Association. The story of my first race is recounted perfectly in my book so I won't talk about that, but what I will talk about is that I instantly hated the grease of racing. I have a minor sensory issue with dirt and grime on my hands and, sadly, engines don't change their own oil.

I suffered through half a year of oil and late in the season the club flagman at the time, Frankie, was getting old and some of the flags displayed did not match the situation. A 12 lap race once was 7, and instead of the checkered flag once the race ended on a blue (that means a faster kart is about to lap you). Seizing the chance I volunteered myself to be the assistant and keep track of the laps and hand Frankie the correct flag.

I was always older than my age so no one thought twice of me, a 12 year old, being be put into that position. By the following year the club's race director gave me the headset (we had a limited quantity) and you can see this in the picture. This is me and Frankie in one of the many breaks during the day and I must have been through with my races because my suit is no longer on. My race day was busy because when it was time for my race I would rush across the track to get my helmet and gloves on, and after my race I would rush back. I was a truly dedicated youngster!


On a scorching summer day in early August of 1996 the club told Frankie we "weren't racing due to heat" because of the troubles he had been having. They asked if I was ready to be the sole flagman. I had been ready since I first saw Duane Sweeney waive those twin flags back in 1987!

That first race was one of the biggest honors of my life. I knew that most places would not let a 13 year old flag a race. The responsibilities are great and there is no room for error. Mistakes can cause an accident, an injury and all movements must be precise. I was not yet diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, but my mind loves the art of perfection and that first race went smoothly.


The following race I went back to my role as assistant and I was a little down. Frankie, not knowing I had already flagged a race weekend, asked me if I wanted to trade off races. He would do one, then I would do the other. He thought I was ready, and I took this as a sign that he was ready to step down. I think he was 80 years old and had been flagging races pre WW2!

He didn't step down and was eventually forced into retirement in the middle of the 97 season. At that time, at the age of 14, I was named chief started of the Saint Louis Karting Association and I held that position until 2008!

I am grateful I had flagging. When I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome in 2003 I went into a state of isolation. The only thing I really had was looking forward to the Sunday's that had a race. I had quit racing karts a couple months before I was diagnosed because it looked like I was going to make it as a professional driver. That never happened, but I had the flagging and I don't know where I would be without it.

During those years of flagging I always thought of flagging bigger races, and who wouldn't? When watching races I would comment that I could, "waive a better flag than that!" and I often shook my head is dismay at the checkered flags waived in F1. Since I have waived flags for so long I have turned it into an art form, and most F1 races have a flagger that puts no emotion into it. "What a shame" I thought, "it's the biggest series on Earth and there is no sense of how important a race win is by the flagman." I often would lie awake wondering what it would be like to flag a race that had a "real somebody" in it.

I didn't know it, but I was on track to do so (no pun intended, I tried to think of something else, but couldn't). It wasn't a sudden promotion though and the bridging events that led up to Schumi and Me will be tomorrow's story.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

One Year Later: Dreams Do Come True

First, if you haven't read the article on how raising awareness became my passion you should. It can be read here http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/04/autism-awareness-month-and-how.html.

That was one year ago and last year I knew what I wanted, but had no direction. It isn't so much to want to raise awareness and to want to help, but one must have the platform to do so. I didn't have a platform nor did I have direction. All I knew was what I wanted, but had no idea how to do so.

My drive home from New York City last year was a very sad drive. Being in New York City at Autism Speaks made me feel as if I accomplished something, or rather a part of something. Leaving there, one year ago, I felt like I was coming back home to nothingness. My passion was set, but what to do about it? What could I do in Missouri when I discovered my passion in an office in Manhattan?

Through some odd twists of fate I did some consultant work at Touch Point Autism Services, and at the time I thought this would be a one and done gig. As you've read though through my previous blog entries, hopefully, you know that I am now full time at Touch Point.

When I started full time I did not know how much of an impact I could have. It's impossible for me to see what could be so when I started I was just hoping that I could raise awareness and understanding.

Last year when I left Manhattan I was thinking big. I may have been blinded by the big city because I was back to my "go big or go home" mentality. The past couple weeks have changed me in a big way and through this change I have realized that big starts in one's own backyard.

I'm writing this today in Joplin, Missouri and tonight I have another presentation. I have seen more of Missouri on this extended road trip then I think I have while living in this state for 17 years. Before I only saw what was on I-70, and I-44 and when one just stays on the interstate I believe one can lose the sense of community and humanity that exists outside the interstate.

What I am getting at is, for one thing, I love this traveling, but secondly the people I have encountered at my presentations are people that if I had just "gone big" I may not have been able to make a difference. Don't get me wrong, I still want large opportunities, but I also want to go to as many small towns as possible because there is need there. Autism isn't just located in the metro areas of the world, it is everywhere and the response I get, even at a presentation of just 16 people, is of the utmost thanks.

I wish I could comprehend the magnitude of a comment such as, "Thank you, I now understand my son a little bit more." or, "Thank you so much, seeing you and hearing you speak gives me hope." Perhaps if I did fully understand it I would be unable to get such results, but regardless I know what I am doing is important.

One year ago I could never have thought this would be reality. When I wrote the chapter, "The Fourth Wall" in my book I envisioned that I would get to travel around and talk about that concept. I dreamt of sleeping in hotel rooms and driving many miles, but it was only a dream and I quickly thought back to reality and the fact that something like that could never happen to me. Boy, was I wrong!

I don't want to keep saying I am having the time of my life, but from where I was to where I am now I feel like I must. Traveling and being on the road is my dream. This isn't relocation theory, but it's close. I feel alive, and I get to raise awareness and understanding at the same time so whatever I was dreaming, or envisioning when I drove back from Autism Speaks I think my dreams came up short as this is the time of my life.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The New Journey Begins

Last night the television show Lost ended. I covered this somewhat on Friday on how I was sad about it and now it is over.

Today I embark on a 20 day journey. I will be headed to Fort Leonard Wood to do a presentation followed by two presentations in Springfield over the next two days. With each day I feel more vigor, more passion, and more dedication to share my experience of being on the autism spectrum and to raise awareness any way I can.

As I said on Friday, my first experience with Lost was a commercial during the 2004 Indy 500. What I left out was what happened during that 2004 Indy 500. The record books will show that Buddy Rice won in a rain shortened event. What I will remember most is that I survived it. The rains that came in the end weren't a drizzle, but a severe storm that was producing tornadoes. Over the loud speaker, Dave Calabro, the track PA announcer shouted, "Get to cover NOW! There is a tornado on the ground!" The skies were ominous and while the majority of people in attendance were rushing to their cars, my dad and I headed to the basement of the museum. Before that, I made a phone call.

My goal in my presentations is to raise awareness. I want people to know what people on the spectrum feel and sometimes we just don't know how to express it. I gave two presentations last Friday and with each presentation I feel stronger and more sure of myself.

After my presentations in Springfield I will be headed to Indianapolis to attend my 14th straight Indy 500. Each time I return to the Speedway since 2004 I look at the exact spot I made that phone call during the incoming storm. I honestly thought I was about to die, so I called Emily. If you saw the clouds you too would think that the worst was about to hit. The clouds were moving in and swirling downward and the intense lightning storm coming in from the West was something that I had never seen and haven't seen since.

My trip to Indy this time is my first since I wrote the last chapter of my 2nd book. Last year I went to the 500 alone for the first time. I then drove to Washington D.C., to Dover for the Autism Speaks 400, and then to Autism Speaks' home office in New York City. It was there that my life clicked. It was there that this passion exploded, to tell my story and my concepts to let families possibly understand why we do what we do.

I had tried to call Emily several times that month and got no answer. It had been five months since I broke up with her on Christmas via text message, but we still ate at Fortel's every Monday and bowled in the same league. To be honest, not much changed. After bowling concluded the first week in May the change occurred. No more did we eat each Monday and no more would we bowl together. On this Sunday, with the seemingly doomsday like storm moving in, she answered the phone.

This year a friend I have raced with over Xbox Live is joining me in Indy. We plan on playing golf on Thursday, going to Terre Haute for a Sprintcar race that night, going to Carb Day at the Speedway on Friday as well as the Silver Crown race at the fairgrounds that night, then the Night Before the 500 midget race at ORP, then the 500 on Sunday. On top of that, I start training with USAC and will be listening in on the radio at the sprintcar, silver crown, and midget race to start my way towards flagging for USAC. It's going to be a memorable weekend!

My seats this year for the 500 will be almost right across from where I was when Emily answered the phone and very inquisitively answered, "hello?" Her voice was different, and I wasted no time in asking if she had watched the race, which she hadn't, and then I said there was a nasty storm coming in and it did not look good. She seemed somewhat concerned, although I don't know if she was or if she was just humoring me, but regardless I said "I love you" to her for what would be the last time.

Once this upcoming weekend is over I head right back down to the Southwest part of the state to continue giving presentations. I will have about 10 hours at home on Memorial Day, but Tuesday morning it's right back down I-44 and my elation on my schedule can't be stated enough.

My relationship started with Emily reached a point of no return once I had my diagnosis and it was partly due to me. I didn't know how to handle it, and further more I thought I was alone. I thought there was no hope and I wish I knew what I knew now. What I know now is what drives me and what fuels my ability to give my presentations with such a clarity.

It is fitting that Lost ended last night because my first encounter with it was the same day that Emily was lost for good. She didn't return the "I love you" and I knew it was over. The depression that was already setting in was in at full force. Then, halfway through Lost's first season, I started to write.

I feel as if this multi-city tour and this Indy 500 is a turning point in my life. I want to be out there; I want to spread my experiences. For those who have young ones I can say early intervention is beyond valuable, and for those who possibly know older ones, it is much easier to deal with life when the hardships of life have a name and isn't due to lack of skill or lack of being able to be liked.

That fateful day in 2004 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been something I have not thought of in a long while. It still hurt up until Lost concluded. I still felt the pain in the lack of a return to "I love you," and I hated that, but today I embrace it. I realized that all the events in my life were set in motion by radical events, and today I go out more dedicated than ever to do anything and everything I can to tell the world what it is like. Lost was an amazing television series in terms of telling a story, but now it is over. For me though, my story is just beginning, and the next chapter begins today.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The 50th Blog Post: How Did I Get Here?

At the start of April I had a post on how I became passionate about autism awareness, but how did I get to that point? I often get asked, "Aaron, how did you start writing?" I've been asked this enough that I felt that it would be right to have this be my 50th post.

First, this is a big deal as the number 50 is halfway to 100 and I love milestones. I was always pressured to do a blog and didn't know anything about the blogosphere or any of the protocol on what to and what not to write. After enough motivation I started and hopefully you have enjoyed the first 49 posts as much as I have enjoyed writing the stories. The way I started blogging though was much like I started to write, on that first night.

Back in February, 2005 I had been diagnosed for just over a year and was in the biggest pit of depression I have ever experienced. For those of you that have read my book (if you haven't, click on the book cover on the upper right!) you know that I started writing by writing a chapter about a relationship that fizzled after my diagnosis.

On that first night I didn't care about the grammatical protocol and didn't care about spelling. The only thing I wanted was a conduit to say what I wanted to say. At the time, speaking was difficult for me and expressing any emotion of any kind was avoided at all costs. Writing though, writing allowed me to state things without an immediate response.

I first learned this tactic when I got my diagnosis. I knew that questions would be asked and they would probably deal with emotions, so the night before my assessment I wrote a multi-page story of my life hoping that on any question asked I could simply say, "I covered it, read page 2".

Sadly, the assessor did not once read anything of it during the assessment so my grand plan failed. What didn't was that I knew that I could write. Was it good? I had no idea, but writing came easy to me and while it took a while and it took me going into the pit of not caring about life to unlock it, it eventually became unlocked.

That first night I wrote the chapter about my relationship, printed it off, and placed in on the stove so my dad could read it in the morning. I was petrified that night in fright because I didn't know the response I would receive. I had to say it though as I was so bottled up in emotion that had no way to diffuse.

The response from my dad wasn't of hate or anger, but rather of encouragement so I wrote again the next night, and then the following night.

I began to slow down, but when I was in Kenya and we were held against out will by a mob of homeless kids in Kissumu, I found a new found cylinder to fire on.

I slowed down again, and then in May I had a very nasty bout with MRSA. If you don't know what that is I am envious of you because MRSA is a very nasty strain of staph that wreaks havoc wherever it goes. I was in the hospital for almost a week and it was the loneliest time of my life. I sent a text, with my phone, to the person that I wrote about first and dedicated my book to, but she didn't respond. My dad was out of town and I don't recall any visitors after the first night.

The pain was immense and the fever was high. ABC's television series Lost was in its first year and I remember being engrossed in the episode that was on, but the pain was so great I had to take my medicine and fall asleep.

Eventually I had surgery on the back of my neck and I really wanted to post the pictures of what my neck looked like after the surgery, but have decided it would be to graphic to show. I know my step-mom nearly fainted when they showed her how to pack my "hole in my neck".

I mention in my book that this was a major event, but it has taken five years to realize just how major it was. Up until those painful, lonely nights I didn't really know what isolation meant. Then everything hit me and I was able to think upon how lucky we were to get out of Kenya alive ("a couple years later that same mob killed a German couple, according to news reports I read).

Being alone is something my mind has always wanted, but it was laying in that hospital bed with a 104+ degree fever that allowed me to know what being on the spectrum meant. With my first chapter I wrote I began the process of acceptance, but it took a bulging mass of MRSA to kick it into my mind that all of my social faults were not 100% my fault.

The biggest thing that happened on the final night before the surgery was that I allowed myself to forgive myself. For that my writing became even stronger and more unafraid.

The final major event of 2005 took place on December 8th. Once again my writing had slowed down, but what I was writing was writings that were unafraid and pure.

I have watched every episode of NBC's The Apprentice with Donald Trump since the beginning. During the fourth season the final task for Randal, who would eventually win and becom the Apprentice, was to run a charity event sponsored by Outback Steakhouse to benefit the upstart charity, Autism Speaks.

Randal met with Suzanne Wright in the episode and she mentioned that her goal was to, "Give those who can't speak a voice" and that quote has stuck with me. I become fixated on that line because some of the people up to that point in time described my works in almost the same way.

A writing explosion occurred (that's what I call a time period where I write a bunch of stuff that is usually my best pieces of works. I had one last Thursday!) and I fired off some of my best concepts after that.

Mrs. Wright's comment on that episode of the Apprentice turned the tide in my writing. Up until that point I never truly thought of my potential impact. Yes, I know I mention in my book that it was my first trip to Kenya that I thought my stuff could be a book, but thinking it could be a book and thinking that people might get something out of it, truly understand and learn from it, are two different things.

So here I am now. If you are new to my blog I would hope you would take the time to read my "Autism Awareness Month" entry from early April to read even more about this topic. But, for now I know that I may not be the voice for all those that can't speak as each case of autism is going to be different, but if I can, through my writings, give parents and care givers just a glimmer of insight into how our minds work then all those nights of anguish and pain will have been worth it.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to the next 50, 150, 500, and even 1000 blog posts in the future!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Taking my flag show on the road

Friday's entry was about my trip to the track and the awkwardness of being at a track without any duties. On Sunday one person said, regarding that, "Yes, Aaron, you looked like a confused zombie".

The cure for zombieitis came Saturday morning as the smell of kart exhaust and the sound of shifter kart engines filled the crisp California morning. All the awkwardness was tossed aside and it was nearing show time.

The moments before the first session of the weekend are always tension filled for me. Is everyone in position? Is the track ready? These questions always pound about in my head before the first session.

Everything and everybody were in position as the day started and I was in paradise. I may have been north of San Fransisco, but I felt as if I were in Las Vegas because of all the familiar faces that I was working with. Nearly everyone on track is also part of the SKUSA crew that works the SuperNats so I knew everyone and we ran a great race. As a side note I must say that the crew assembled for this SKUSA Pro Tour event, along with the SuperNats, has got to be the finest crew to work with!

The day progressed and I was smiling the entire time. It had been five months since the last race I flagged and I was savoring every moment. I don't know if anyone else at the track be it driver, crew, or official enjoys the time at the track as much as I do. I have what is considered to be a thankless job and a job not too many people desire. For me though it is everything. For me, flagging a race is so freeing. It is so intense and requires so much concentration that it is relaxing. I don't understand this, but it is so that's all that I know.

When it came time for the S4 class main event I had a close call as when I started the race several karts got together and spun in my direction. I know I want no part of being in the vicinity of karts out of control so I jumped over the tire wall and avoided being part of the action. When this occurred I though that this was way too close, looking back this wasn't even close compared to what was to come the next day.

Saturday ended and I went back to the hotel just beaming. I was worn out, but I was full of confidence. It is amazing what being in a Kansas environment does. When I worked at a video game store the physical demands were not all that great. The mental demands were even less as there were no close calls, no running, and certainly no chance of being hit at a high rate of speed. Yet, after just a four hour shift, I was very bitter and empty. I was full of anger that wasn't directed at anyone or anything and I was exhausted to the point of not being able to get out of my chair. To contrast that I had a 10 hour day and I ran over five miles and was nearly clobbered by a kart and even though my muscles ached, and my legs throbbed, I was the happiest person on Earth. Moral of that story; Kansas is important.

Sunday morning came all too early. I still may have been the happiest person alive, but my muscles were no sharing the glory of happiness. The stiffness went away as we got to the track on the prospect of another 10 hours of racing bliss.

Even though I call this bliss I am aware of the dangers. To stand next to a racing surface with karts traveling in close proximity to each other at a high rate of speed isn't exactly the safest place to be. I have never been hit except by a kid kart doing 2mph (he was going SO slow that he was able to change his direction with every avoiding move I made. He had target fixation and a laser guided missile would've been proud of his perfect execution of homing in and hitting the flagman).

I laughed about the kid kart incident, but in the back of my mind I've always wondered what would happen if a kart got me at speed. It's this wondering that keeps me on my toes. I would be put to the test in the heat 1 of the Cadet class.

On all rolling starts I am just off center of the track so all the drivers can see me. As the field nears and the race director says "Green" or "no good" I start side-stepping off the track. The faster the field is coming at me the faster I get off the racing surface. This cadet class got on the gas early just as the call was made for the green flag so I started waiving the green while getting off the track at a fast pace. My eyes followed the first three rows by me and then I did something I hadn't done all weekend and that was to look at the back of the field.

My eyes caught one of the karts on the outside column make a bold move to driver's left. This would have been a fantastic move had he not of had a kart to left. He made sudden contact at an acute angle which sent both karts almost straight left. I was almost straight left of them.

The contact came so suddenly and the karts headed my direction so fast that I know I didn't have a chance to think out what to do. The day prior I had enough time to think, "I want to part of this" and I vaulted the barrier. This incident though was sudden and without warning; a flagman's worst nightmare.

I gave a mortal scream much like the time I hit a horse with my car (that story will be in my 2nd book) right as I jumped and dove at the same time. I can't recall anything except that I looked down and saw part of a kart go beneath me. While I was in the air I heard the sickening sound of a kart slamming into the tire wall.

Without planning my jump my landing was not thought out and I landed hard. My right knee slammed into the ground somehow, my left leg twisted under myself, and my back hit flat. I was staring at the sky, in shock and wondering, "Why am I laying in the grass?" Truly that was what I was thinking. It happened so fast that I was perplexed as to what had happened. Then I tried to breathe.

Losing one's breath is not a pleasant experience and about this time I heard over the radio, "One of our guy's is down!" I was wondering who this was and it took a couple ore thoughts to realize that this was me. I turned my head and saw the kart that I had cleared in the air and the nose of his kart was about a foot from my head. I could tell the kid was in some pain by the way he was moving his neck so I tried to get up to make my way back to the finish line (the starting line was about a tenth of a mile from the finish line. This is to put the start line right next to turn one so the speeds are slower on the 1st lap).

My first attempt at getting up resulted in failure as I was still searching for my breath. At this point in time I knew I had to get up or the race would be stopped for me and I did not want that. I'm supposed to flag the action, not be part of it or influence it in any way.

I got up and as the race director got to me and he asked, "are you okay?" I responded with a "yes" not really knowing if I was. I was sore, but I knew I would have been much worse off had I been hit.

I began to limp as the pain of landing wrong began to trickle through my system. At this point in time I heard over the radio that one of the karts needed a rolled black flag (this is a warning for rough driving) so I began to run back to my post not realizing that someone had already manned it.

Once back at my post the adrenaline started to wear off and then my leg let me know it didn't appreciate the landing. The pain wasn't awful, but I had lost some of the strength in it so I no longer made the trek down to the starting line.

I toughed it out and refused to take a rest and the end of the day came not a moment too soon. The thrilling racing seen throughout the day certainly kept me motivated. Each race got better and better and I saw three of the best races races I had ever witnessed so it was all worth it.

I'm sore today and my leg is back to almost normal, but I wish my back would stop spasming. The pain is sharp, but I still have a smile on my face. I wouldn't trade it as that would have meant I wasn't at the track. Being at the track with the flags is everything. There are risks, and close calls, but the rewards are worth it.

Coming home yesterday was rough. I enjoyed the travel aspect of it as I normally do and I once again wished I experience airports more often. With each step I took, and each mile the plane flew, I knew I was leaving that great experience of being on the track.

Each mile though was another mile closer to home. I have two Kansas' now and I'm back in the office writing and I will be at the police academy doing my autism presentation in about two hours. A year ago I would've been depressed for a month after getting home because, in my mind, I would be coming home to nothing.

When I experience total bliss anything short of total bliss is considered nothing. It's bad my mind is this way, but that's the joy of on/off thinking with no middle ground.

Today though there is no depression. In two hours it's show time again. This time it won't be with flags, but rather words and a simple Power Point presentation. Life is great!

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If you'd like to listen to the live call of my near miss you can listen to it at http://www.livestream.com/ekartingnewscomtracksidelive/video?clipId=pla_964cbfa6-92f0-4d92-b022-ece35c9fd6e6 and move the audio to the 1 hour 4 minute 30 second mark and listen. I just listened to it and it's amazing how fast everything actually went when, for me, the entire episode seemed to last for an hour.

Also, if you'd like to read the story of how I got into flagging and how I got my position with SKUSA, you can read my dad's account which was an Autism Speaks In Their Own Words article at http://www.autismspeaks.org/community/ownwords/intheirownwords_likens.php