Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Grill

I sat, transfixed eyes out the window, wondering what type of scene in a movie this would be. Would it be a moment of reflection, celebration, or of a sense of failure? "No, not failure" I thought to myself, "this right here is life coming full circle and a victory celebration."

What had me in this state? I had left the golf course and headed towards the hotel and, much to my surprise, the restaurant that I had dinner at in 2003 was open. It was the FireSide Grill back then, but when I passed through the town as a passenger in 2016 headed to Pikes Peak the building was in a state of disarray. Now though, now it was open, so I had to go in.

There were many more people in there than in 2003. However, it was similar in layout, and I got a seat where I had sat all those years ago. My first thought I had was if this was what a midlife crisis felt like; this sense of trying to understand how I felt in a previous time. I pushed that thought away, but still wondered if the me of 2003 could have even dreamt of the places I've seen and the achievements I have reached. Then, I wondered, would the person I was even be proud of who I am now because back then the only thing that mattered was racing. It was plan A, there was no plan B.

Memories are a funny thing. It's odd how some events become a headliner, and others are forgotten. I haven't done much discussion on what happened between Vegas and my diagnosis, and the thing is, I'm not fully sure what happened. It's a bit of a lost time and I'd have to say I was depressed that I had been a professional driver and now I was sitting at home wondering how to get back. Of course, a month after this, my life would be changing with the diagnosis. 

As I finished up dinner, I enjoyed the secret I had in what this building meant to me. Everyone else in the crowded place was in conversation with the people they were having dinner with while I was alone. Alone with my thoughts, my memories, and as I left the hope that I left there knowing that I made it through such a horrible time after my diagnosis. That building was the last bright spot before my life changed, but I made it through, I made it back, and I'll continue going onward and upward.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

On the Road 19 Years Later


It was dark and eerily quiet as I headed to my car. I looked up at the stars with a sense of amazement just as I had 19 years ago when, on that night I headed on the trek of 1400 miles towards Las Vegas.

All those years ago I was headed to be an instructor at a race car driving school whereas this time I was headed that way on a trip to write and work a kart race. However, the thrill of the open road, and the trip down memory lane gave me the same sense of awe as back in 2003.

It amazes me that I was able to achieve the trip back then. There were no smartphones and the only map I had was a Rand McNally from many years prior. And yet, I remember being fearless on that trip. I stayed at a hotel in Denver on my way out, and I walked in and booked the room without hesitation. You see, back then, I wouldn't use the phone, feared going to stores, and avoided all social situations at all costs and somehow, I drove across the country without fear.

As I got 100 miles into my trip to go round the sun started coming up on the eastern horizon as I got to Columbia. With each passing mile I thought back to who I was and just how important that chapter of my life (and book) were. On my drive out 19 years ago I was fully unaware of Asperger's and yet just two months after doing the sensational I would forget all that I was, and all the potential.

Around 9 in the morning I made it to Kansas and, as I joke in my presentations, it was as boring as ever. When I got on the turnpike, I stopped at a gas stop that's in the center of the interstate, and I just sat there for a moment almost overwhelmed thinking back. At the pump I was looking at, 19 years prior, was a Ford that was getting gas and a USAF airman with government plates. I felt some sort of kinship then as we were both traveling to places far away, or so I assumed for him. Back then, I called traveling the great equalizer of socializing because, on the road in a car, everyone has the same ability to communicate which is none at all and that made me feel safe and at the same time gave me a sense of connection. As I pulled away from the gas station, I wondered what happened to that man I saw 19 years ago. The thought was almost too much, and I sped away trying to outrun the memories of "whatever happened to..."

My destination was Limon, Colorado. This was the town I stayed at on the drive home. That was the day that so many readers of my book Finding Kansas remember as the day my dad waved the checkered flag for me when I returned home. It was unknowingly symbolic as that day was the end of the first chapter of my life.

There wasn't much traffic across Kansas, except for Lawrence as the Jayhawks football team was playing Duke that day and the traffic at that exit was well backed up to the interstate. This reminded me of the traffic that was backed up in 2003 for the NASCAR Busch Series race at the then new Kansas Speedway. I love when there's connections like this.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and I made amazing time which allowed for me, when I got to Limon, to make a random stop for some golf.

My trip 19 years ago had several random social encounters I've remembered almost daily, the biggest was the old man I golfed with at the Boulder City course. I've always wondered how spotty some memories can be, and others can be etched to the point of being burned into our being to the point that it becomes part of our essence.

On the second hole an older gentleman, whom I think was practicing for the following day's scramble tourney, told me to play through. I had a great shot, and he commented on it. He then wished me the best and he somehow knew I wasn't from there and told me to be safe on my travels down the road. I came across him on another hole and he was just as cordial as before. Then, when I got to hole 18, I saw him leaving on the road that runs with the course, he slowed down, and waved. 

There are all these misconceptions out there that everyone on the spectrum is aloof, or uncaring, but it's just that, for us, it's different. Much like the events of 19 years ago, I'm going to remember this older gentleman at the Limon course for a long time and yet there was no in-depth conversation, and there wasn't anything more than common pleasantries. It's a bit difficult thinking of that moment now writing this because something I know should be a throw-away event, a memory bound for the recycle bin, will forever flash across the desktop in my brain. Perhaps this is the essence of travel. It isn't just the miles of terrain we see, but the people we come across. 

With those thoughts I put the golf clubs in my trunk and headed towards the destination, but first a stop at a restaurant, which I'll pick up the story in tomorrow's post from there.


Monday, September 26, 2022

Vegas

To understand just how special it is for me to be on this road trip to Las Vegas, I'll share with you the full, unabridged version of Las Vegas from Finding Kansas...


Las Vegas

 

            I’ve written snippets of my experience in October 2003 in other pieces, but I’ve decided to write a stand-alone piece that will describe the events of that roller-coaster month.

            Two thousand and three had been a rough year. I had a serious knee injury in May, I had my dog put to sleep in June, I hadn’t driven a racecar in over a year, and my mom had gone temporarily insane and I had moved to my dad’s house. This move took a toll on all my friendships and relationships. The move was sort of like pausing a CD, in the sense that when the move was made all relationships were frozen. Time moved on like it always does, but for me all relationships were frozen. Don’t get me wrong, I still interacted, but I did nothing to gain or lose anything, as I was unable to assess the gains and losses.

            Enter the month of September. My dad had formerly done advertisements for the Derek Daly Driving Academy in Las Vegas. So on a long shot he called out and asked if there were any openings for instructors. In a bizarre turn of events, luck was on my side, and there was in the month of October when they were going to have a bunch of corporate parties out. I was invited to become an instructor for a month, and needless to say, that made my year.

            My girlfriend at the time seemed to have mixed emotions about it. From what I deduced it seemed to be jealousy. My belief is she got mad that I was going to be making quite a bit of money, but I never had gone to college, so I didn’t really deserve it. Whatever the case may have been, our relationship started to take that left turn behind the wall (racing analogy) at that point in time. As mentioned in prior writings, she did everything she could to avoid seeing me. And in some instances, she flat out lied about seeing me (see “Emily”). I would go into details about that, but it’s been covered and I don’t really feel like typing it out once more.

            October 4 was upon me, and it was time to start my journey. This was going to be my first trip away from home by myself away from family for more than two days. Also this would be the first time I was in excess of three hundred miles away from any family. Add on top all of that and the family I was staying with I had never met. It was truly a journey into the unknown.

            The morning of the fourth was an odd one. I got up around four in the morning so I could make as many miles as I could before needing that all-important sleep. Before I left, my stepmom and dad talked to me in the living room. The conversation was one like one would have if they were off to war. I was in a half awake and half-asleep state that I don’t remember the exact words, but after a lengthy goodbye it was off to the gas station for a Red Bull. Any time I drive anywhere of great distance I have the routine of drinking a Red Bull. The can says energy drink, and I don’t know if it works or if it’s just a sugar pill, but it is required for me to start a journey.

            By the time I got about two miles from my house the trip started to sink in, or rather it was sort of like waking up from a nap and having no idea where you’re going or why you are even in a car. I quickly called my dad and asked him, “Umm, where am I going again?” Of course I knew the destination, but to get there I was blank. He told me, and I quickly regained my bearings and it was to Interstate 70 for what would be the most triumphant drive of my life.

            The sun hadn’t cracked yet as I pulled on to I-70, as the time was about 4:50. My fuel was full and many a mile of road lay ahead. I noticed something on this first leg of my journey, and that was the fact that time flies when it’s dark. The sun started to become pronounced as I entered Columbia, Missouri. While driving through Columbia, I had a flashback of my prior experiences there.

            My first unofficial girlfriend, Michelle (I never really have written about her because there wasn’t much to say, as she didn’t really say much), was attending college at Mizzou. I recalled the time I bowled in the travel league there. Ironically, that’s the first time I saw Emily when I saw her at the hotel. How could I forget the other teams throwing chicken into the swimming pool?

            Just as fast as my mind thought of that I was through Columbia and had knocked down ninety of 1,600 miles. My goal for the day would be to get to at least the Colorado border.

            Traffic got really heavy as I crossed Kansas City and entered the west side of town. That same day a NASCAR Busch series race was going to be run at the Kansas speedway. After about twenty miles of going twenty miles an hour I was “green” again and back up to speed.

            My first refuel stop came past Kansas City right before the turnpike. What was very peculiar was the fact that the three cars I had been following all stopped at this same gas station. I remember that trio of cars well because one was a Ford Taurus with US GOVT. license plates, and the person who refilled the car looked to be a highly decorated airman. It hit me at that point that I would probably never see this person again. I don’t know how or why, but instantly, like film, that person and car were imposed into my brain like film (title of “film” coming soon). I realized that everything I was going to see and drive through I may not pass through again, and then I was reminded of this song that was sung in second grade. I don’t remember most of the words or melodies, but the finale line of each verse was, “Friend, I’ll say goodbye because I may not pass this way again.”

            After my little bout of emotions, it was time to trudge on. I had always heard that Kansas was boring, and people don’t lie. No offense to anyone in Kansas, but I salute you because to see such dull scenery day in and day out would have to drive you to the brink of insanity.

            I refueled somewhere before the Colorado border, and by this time it was about 2:00 p.m. I was getting a bit weary eyed, but I had to keep going to make it just a one-night drive.

            To keep me up, I stopped early for fuel and at the same time got another Red Bull (just for your knowledge, this isn’t an advertisement or testimonial about Red Bull) and food. I bought some unseeded sunflower seeds and a Wild Cherry Pepsi. The clerk lady asked me where I was headed, and I responded that my destination was Vegas and that I had left St. Louis some eleven hours prior. She was rather impressed that someone at my age would be making that trek. She wished me good luck, and as I walked through the door once, I knew I’d never be there again. As I entered my car and drove away, it finally hit me what I was actually doing, and the trigger of all things were those sunflower seeds.

             Every time I remember my family going to the panhandle of Nebraska, my dad would get unseeded seeds. So when I got them, I realized that I was writing my own chapter in my life and that I was doing it by myself. It was the first time that I actually felt independent of all others.

            Now a couple of paragraphs ago I gave a condemnation to people who live in Kansas. I now have to give a recommendation to those poor souls who live in the eastern half of Colorado. Why would I do this? In Kansas, there are wheat and sunflower fields, so in the least there’s something to look at. In the first part of Colorado, the land is barren, the traffic is sparse, and the Rocky Mountains loom in the distance, barely visible, and there is nothing else around. Even the truck stops were barren and boring compared to others around the country. If I lived there, I would go insane, and for no reason whatsoever I would move to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

            As those Rocky Mountains in the distance remained in the distance hour after hour, my reflexes were slipping rapidly. The Red Bull may increase awareness in a normal person, but to one who has been driving for twelve-plus hours, its effects are minimal. I had passed Limon and after that the next stop of significance was Denver, so I was pretty much committed regardless of sleep to make it to Denver.

            At about six o’clock in the evening I finally reached Denver, and those mountains were now not too far off. I had an inkling to drive farther, but thankfully my senses prevailed and I stopped at the American Inn due north of downtown. This would be my first experience in actually stopping at a hotel and ordering a room by myself. I did this process perfectly (well, can someone screw it up?), and I immediately headed for my room.

            My intentions were to go to sleep right away, but the hotel had Speed channel, and they had a USAC Sprint Car race from Indianapolis Raceway Park on. I watched that and went to sleep shortly thereafter around 7:30.

            My banking institution inquiring as to why my ATM card was being used all across Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado rudely awakened me at 9:00 p.m. I talked rather angrily toward the person, saying that I was on a trip. After that I was right back asleep.

            About 2:00 in the morning I woke up wide-awake. By the way my body was refreshed I thought it was eight or nine. I looked at my cell phone and was shocked that it was just two in the morning. I tried but failed on returning to sleep, so I packed up and headed to my car to check out.

            While driving away from the hotel and back onto the Interstate, I decided to refuel. This refueling for some reason gave me a special feeling inside. I don’t know if it’s because I was now less than fourteen hours away from Vegas, or if it was because I was where I was by myself and I was doing it with no fear. I didn’t think about that for too long, and after the car was full I went in and got myself some…you guessed it, Red Bull.

            Very quickly, there was great contrast between the wasteland of eastern Colorado and what was to come. It started quickly by seeing a horrible roadside crash in the eastbound lanes. After that, it was much like being at the top of a roller coaster about to descend into excitement.  

            Within an hour I was in the most scenic part of America I had ever seen, and this was at 3:00 in the morning. I could tell that the hills on each side of the road were staggeringly high. As each small resort town passed, the roads became windier and the mountains higher. This was the most fun bit of road I had ever driven on by far.

            I did exceed the speed limits in places, and I was making excellent time because in that part of the country in the middle of night, there is virtually no one to be seen. In fact, the only people I saw were two workers in a tunnel washing the tiles on the side of the tunnel.

            Time once again was going by fast and right as the sun broke, I was at the Utah- Colorado border. As the sun shone over the hills, I saw the vast mesas and mountains of this region. It was so beautiful that I nearly drove my Maxima right off the road. I wish I had a camera then so I could describe to you just how awe-inspiring that sight was.

            Because I had gotten up at such a wee hour, my body was getting tired, so somewhere near Green River, Utah, I pulled off onto one of the scenic lookouts and took a nap. I couldn’t believe I was doing this. I felt so alive while taking that nap because that was something I never thought I would do.

            Two hours later, it was go time once again, and I’m thankful I refueled there, because for the next what seemed to be one thousand miles the only exits were labeled “ranch exits.” Then, after a while, I would get to one of the most depressing interchanges of my life.

            All my life I have lived on or near I-70. That interstate runs through my former hometown of Indianapolis, and it is a main thoroughfare of St. Louis. On numerous occasions we have taken that road east to see my aunt in Washington D.C. But now, on this October 5 day, I was reaching the end of this interstate. I guess for the normal person this would be a moot point and just a transition from I-70 to I-15, but for me it was almost like losing a friend. I had been on I-70 for nearly one thousand miles, and we were almost like buddies, and now it was the end. And when I say end, it’s a very abrupt end as if you were to bypass the exits you would end up in the side of a rock face.

            As choked up as I was, I made that turn to the south and got on I-15. This would be the road that would lead me to my destination. I was good on fuel until just after the Nevada- Arizona border, and as I got out I still had my leather jacket on. What a surprise I found when the air temperature was a steamy one hundred. It was definitely a stark contrast to the fall-like weather of Denver.

            It was now about 1:00 p.m. when finally, finally I had completed my 1,660-mile quest. Because it was only 1:00 p.m. Vegas time, I decided to stop by the office of the Academy just to see if anyone was home. I had been there on two previous occasions, so I knew where it was and I knew the layout. I asked one of the mechanics, whom I had never seen before, if Jeff, the manager guy, was around. He replied that he was with two special clients on the Inner Road Course. The facilities at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway have many tracks and the Academy uses two of them, the Inner Road Course, which lies within the oval that NASCAR uses, and an Outer Road Course, which, when NASCAR runs there, is used as a parking lot and heliport.

            Because of the fact I had never been on the IRC, I wasn’t about to just drive to the infield and say hello. I was just going to wait for them to come back to the office. It wasn’t like I had anything else to do. The family I was staying with wasn’t getting back to their home in Henderson (which is about thirty-five miles south of the track which lies about fifteen miles north of the famous Strip) until 5:00 p.m.

            During my wait, I was listening to the NASCAR race on the radio, and about an hour later Jeff came back to the office. I got out of my car, and he instantly remembered me and said, “Ah, Mr. Likens, I see you’ve made it!” I had made it indeed.

             That day there were just two students, and I went with them to the IRC just to watch and wait. As that day concluded, my nerves started to get frazzled as I realized that I was less than an hour from meeting the family with whom I would be staying for three weeks. As I left the track, I asked when I would be needed and they said not officially until the fifteenth, but I could come to the track and help out if I’d like. This was different from what I had understood, because I thought I was going to be needed right away, but I wasn’t going to complain.

            As I made my way from the track and to the house where I would be staying, anxiety took over. Would these people be freaks? Would they have some sort of strange eating habits or play loud music? The only thing I knew for sure was that the lady’s name was Sunshine, her husband’s, Freddie, and that Sunshine was a church secretary. Other than that, I knew nothing. Would I have my own room and/or television? There were so many unknowns that would be known in less than an hour.

            I drove cautiously as I approached Horizon Ridge Road, and I exited the I-215 and got off. I had a map my dad had made me, but it was outdated and I was having a heck of a time finding Snowgoose Drive. When I finally found it, they were just getting home themselves. I helped them unload the groceries they had bought and introduced myself. They introduced themselves, and I instantly felt welcomed. I was shown my room, which had its own television and a fish tank. They had bought bed covers for me and a pillowcase (which I still use to this day!). I set up my video games and then it was time for dinner. Now, mind you, I’m a picky eater, and on the first night in this new household they were having tacos, and I despise tacos with a passion, but it would be rude to turn it down, so for the first time in my life I ate tacos. They weren’t bad, but I wouldn’t care to have them again, unless, of course, Freddie was to make them again.

            After Sunshine showed me her cats, I went straight to bed, as I wanted to get to the Academy early to learn everything I could about what I would be doing. So on Monday, October 6, I was at the track for the first time in a non-student role. I was performing duties of an instructor on that day and all of that week but wasn’t being paid for it. It didn’t matter, as I was around the cars and was driving a BMW Z3 every once in a while and also serving as flagman, so I didn’t care a bit about pay. In fact, to be honest with you, I would have paid them to do what I was doing.

            That week passed, and it started out a bit rocky with me being overguarded and shy, but as the week went on, I slowly crept into my element. At week’s end, another instructor whose name is B.C. went out with me and we drove around in separate Z3s and he helped me learn the optimal lines in a GT car. Then he drove me around, and then rode with me, and it really helped me in that he was willing to help me out and talk to me. After that, I was right at home at the Derek Daly Academy.

            The atmosphere at the house was great. Our sleep schedules were off, so it was as if it was my house. I rarely saw Sunshine, Freddie, or their daughter, Solana. But nagging at me at the same time were thoughts of home. Not homesickness mind you, but what to do with Emily, but because that’s covered in another paper it will be left blank on this one.

            The day before I officially started working, I went to the Boulder City public golf course to play, and this course was class “A” fabulous. If you have ever seen the movie Casino, you’ve seen this course. What was really odd about this round of golf was the fact that I was paired with someone else, and for the first time I didn’t mind it. The guy who drove the golf cart was a retired machinist, and I heard all about Boulder City and the surrounding areas and the difference in people from Boulder City and Los Angeles. And do you want to know the weird part about this? It was weird because I actually listened. For once in my life, I cared about some irrelevant old man’s talk. Forever before this, I hated being paired with someone while playing golf because the last thing I wanted to hear was small talk, but now because I was in my element, I actually was enjoying it. It didn’t hurt that I started the round with four consecutive birdies.

            Later that day, I went to the mall by the Sunshine Station Casino and actually talked to a couple of random people. One person I talked to for about an hour and a half while she worked the Dippin Dots stand. I learned and asked what there was to do in the surrounding areas but was even more shocked that I, Aaron Likens, was talking to people and actually starting the conversations. I had started on the drug Lexapro a week prior to coming out to Vegas, but I doubt that was the reason why I was opening up. My hypothesis was, for the first time in my life I was happy. I was happy because I knew that tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that I was going to go really fast in a racecar and that was all that mattered.

            The thirteenth to the seventeenth was a corporate event, and I worked about ten hours each day, arriving at the track at about five in the morning and staying till 3:00 p.m. or later. I didn’t mind, though, because this was paradise. It was all I ever wanted and more. After each day’s work, I either stopped at the Petro station and ordered a T-bone for $9.99, or I got a pizza from Villa Pizza when I got back home. Whatever I did, it was the best!

            The weekend saw another short session, and then on Monday I was off. I knew my tenure was running thin by this point, so I went to play another round of golf. I didn’t shoot as well, but I had fun and that’s all that matters. On this day, I also made my one and only trip to the Strip.

            When I had been there previously as a student, my dad and I stayed at Circus Circus, so I decided to go there. It didn’t hurt that they have a good arcade. When I got there and parked, I was overwhelmed with emotion. Memories started to flood back into my mind as if a levee had broken. Even though the year was 2003, for me and my video-graphic mind, it was 2000 and 2001 and my dad was with me. I could see as I walked by the Steak House my dad and me sitting at this certain table talking about the successful day I had, and I could see as I walked through the Adventuredome the miniature golf course my dad played mini golf at and the holes he got his holes in one at. To say the least, it was overwhelming and after just one dollar spent on a game of “Dance Dance Revolution,” I got out of there very hastily.

            With that behind me, I went back to the house and went to bed early, as the next two days were going to be long ones once more.

            Those days passed and it was now the twenty-third and I had just one day left scheduled to work and that was just going to be a half-day school. As celebration of my achievements, Sunshine and her family took me out for a prime rib dinner.

            I get down a lot about people, and I often forget the kindness of people like Sunshine. I was just a kid from St. Louis, and she was nice enough to change out a room so I had one, and now she was taking me out for a prime rib dinner. People like that come few and far between.

            The dinner was over, and once again I went to bed early so I could get up early and work my final day. I wanted to be perfect on this day so I would be called upon again because, as I mentioned before, this was paradise. I mean, I had never had so much energy before. This trip would be like a person who is a great piano player, but all their life they’ve played on a small piano that was out of tune, but now they’re getting to go to a great cathedral and play on a great organ for a month.

But, as you should very well know, something weird should be happening soon. I mean, I’ve written now nearly seven pages and nothing horrific, terrifying, or bad has really happened. I feel some people may read this for the same reason people watch auto racing, and that’s waiting for the big one, and my big one was about to happen, but not in the way you’re going to think it’s going to happen.

As soon as I got to the track, I went to set up the half-day course. I got the cones in place and the cars washed and I was set to go. About forty minutes before the students were set to arrive, I was asked to replace these two ceiling tiles in the classroom. I said no problem, as I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, so I went to the classroom to tackle this ceiling tile issue. The ceiling tiles, though, were, of course, on the ceiling, so to get to them, I stood on the table. I managed to get one in right, but the other one wasn’t fitting properly. I struggled for about five minutes and then it came down on me. The last thing I wanted was to break it, so I attempted to catch it and in the process I stepped off the table and onto what I thought was the back of a chair I had placed by me. Big mistake! I didn’t step on the back, but rather the arm, and it flipped over faster than a spinning SUV and I took a head dive.

I don’t know exactly what my head hit, but all signs pointed to a Goodyear tire used for demonstrations. I was out for an unknown amount of time until another instructor found me. They instantly called the LVMS crash response team and, before I knew what was going on, I was loaded in an ambulance and headed to some hospital I had never heard of. This was very scary because I was coming in and out of consciousness and I’m 1600 miles away from home and no one knows that I’m going to the hospital and all in all it was bad.

Because of the neck injury, I was admitted to the ER right away and was given pain medication right away. I really wish they had mentioned the whole “take with food” catch because I hadn’t eaten anything prior to this. Within thirty minutes, I was throwing up. Mind you, I was throwing up while in a cervical collar. I was so alone.

Beside me was a victim of a car accident (you would’ve thought of all things, that’s why, if any, I would go to the hospital), and her mother actually attended to me while I threw up.

A couple hours passed and the nice mother’s daughter was discharged, so I was alone, but not for long, as Sunshine made her way to the hospital to stay with me. I was in the hospital a total of nearly six hours as they lost my CAT scan a couple times and in the process I threw up a personal record of fifteen times. After the hospital, Sunshine had some work to finish up at the church where she worked, so we went there.

I slept in the pastor’s office, and not too long after we were headed back up to the speedway to get my car. By this time, Freddie had joined us, and he drove my car back to the house. Sadly, the bizarre world I live in would get worse for me.

The doctors prescribed Soma for my pain, and little did I know that I was allergic to it. So, on Sunday, the twenty-sixth, while heading to church, I lost control of my bodily movements and slowly turned into a vegetable. This necessitated another trip to the hospital where they gave me some IVs, and within three hours I was back to normal but was told not to take the Soma again (wow, who’da thunk that advice?).

            By this time I knew I was never going to be an instructor again, and I had no idea what other horrible stuff lay in store for me, so I rested on Monday and on that day I told Sunshine I was going to head back to St. Louis the next day. She said I should wait at least a week to let my severe cervical strain and possible slight concussion have more time to heal, but I was so frustrated with the turn of events, I just wanted to be home in my own bed. I knew emotionally I was going to be unable to stand the goodbyes, so I had to leave quickly.

            So, on that Monday, I went to sleep at 4:00 p.m. and woke up at midnight. I woke Freddie, as he told me to, so he could lock the door behind me. As we headed toward the door, he gave me his keychain thing that has the text and colors of his native Guam. He told me that I was a joy to have around the house and that he and Sunshine would miss me. I held back and simply stated the same thing but in reverse and got in my car and left Snowgoose Drive.

            Once again, I had Red Bull, and I knew that driving past the exit of the LVMS was going to be tough. I passed the track at 12:45 a.m. and was headed home. I made great time once again in the dark and made it past Denver, but Limon was going to be my limit. Once again I got myself a hotel room and then went to dinner at the Fireside Grill, and, boy, was that one of the best steaks I have ever had. For one, it was a steak of achievement as this was the start of the end of my journey, and secondly, it was just really good.

            I went back to the hotel room and went to sleep, and at 3:00 a.m. I was back on the road. Within four hours, though, I got tired, so once again I slept at a rest stop and within an hour and a half, I would start the final journey home.

            If I had been able to feel emotion at that time, the entire drive probably would’ve had tears. But it didn’t, and I drove and drove and drove. I made it from Limon to Saint Louis with nothing out of the ordinary happening, minus the fact that my neck hurt so badly, and by the time I was home, I could not turn it one way or the other.

            I kept in contact with my dad on my way home and he was waiting on the front porch, and as I rounded the corner and pulled onto my street, he waved a checkered flag, which was a great symbolic gesture that I had finished my first great journey by myself.

            Sadly, though, after that my memory goes rather blank. I remember a snippet here and a snippet there. I know I attended Handel’s Messiah, because I have two ticket stubs in my car, so I’m assuming I took Emily, but I don’t remember. The Lexapro really messed me up after that trip, and except for one experience in Indianapolis with a friend (I still can’t write about that!) my memory is totally blank up until April of 2004.

            I do remember driving home from Vegas, and I rethought it again after my conversation that Christmas night that it is true that, “Friend, let me say goodbye, because I may not pass this way again.” How true that is.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Heading west tomorrow!

I haven’t been excited for a trip in some time. Well, excited in the way I am for this trip. You see, tomorrow before the sun comes up I’ll be in my car headed west down I-70. It’ll be almost 19 years to the week I made this same trek as a 20 year-old that led to the chapter “Las Vegas” in my book. 

This trip has several purposes. The first, is to provide inspiration for writing material for this blog as well as to just get away and allow me to write chapters in the book I’m writing about my path to Indy. Another reason is there’s a SKUSA race in Fontana, California that I’ll be able to work. 

I’m curious to see what thoughts or feelings I have on this trip. The experience almost two decades ago has stayed with me all this time and it’ll be fun to contemplate what was, what is, and what’s to come as I travel down the roads I did in 2003, just months before my diagnosis. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

What Sound Feels Like

 So what does sound feel like? The following description is how I feel but if you are new to my blog I want to make one point clear; if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism. My sensations and feelings are mine and they might or might not be shared by another person on the spectrum and I do know some people on the spectrum love loud noises. With all that being so please remember that moving forward.


I have two issues with sound. Obviously the first one is loud noises. However, the second one is something you might not realize, or think of, and that is an item, or other thing in this world, that could produce a loud noise. Those things are almost worse than a loud noise, but I will cover this when I get there.

To begin, let me describe sounds that are currently sounding. (is that a proper sentence? I wonder if it sounds right? Sorry, couldn't help myself with the sound joke) The first thing I notice isn't that I can hear the noise, but rather that I can feel the noise. Typically this is felt in the legs and perhaps this is simply the bass of the noise. Regardless of what it is this is usually the type of noise that gives me issues. I've said this before, but it isn't necessarily the volume of the noise, but rather the frequency and when I can feel the sound the issues begin.

The first thing that will happen in my body is an immediate increase in my heart rate. I wouldn't be surprised if this is a shot of adrenaline because there is fear. The fear, I know, is irrational, but I can't turn my brain's messages off. I can't simply, "get over it" or as I was told as a child, "don't worry about it!" when an electrical drill went off. In any event, it isn't just that the heart rate goes up, but there is a physical pain associated with this. As a child I could not translate my emotions into words people around me could understand. I mean, how could I describe the feeling of wanting to run as fast away from the noise as possible? Adults took it as a child being afraid, but it's more than that as I feel, as loud noises sound, that it is a matter of survival to get away from the noise.

As the heart rate increases my arms start to feel a sharp tingling sensation. If the tempo of the noise increases, say, like a motor increasing it's RPM's, so to does the speed of all the tingles and other feelings. As this increases so to does the messages from my brain, "run... run... RUN!!!" Just writing about the sound has increased my pules a little just from memories of sounds. That, but maybe it is the jackhammer outside my window right now (talk about irony! Is that irony?")

Again, there is no off switch and I am not wanting to feel this to annoy those around me. Perhaps as a child this was thought of, but truly it is an overwhelming of my system.

Ear protection helps greatly and I won't be at a race track without ear protection. I'm not sure why this helps, however, because sound never truly hurts my ears. Maybe it produces a sense of security, but the feeling of sound in my legs and chest is far worse than the sound in my ears (this is where "if you've met one person with autism..." applies because the next person's issues may fully be in the ear.)

Also, in the presence of loud sound, I feel as if I need to do something or if something really awful is about to happen. Besides the physical sensations the anxiety of something bad is about to happen can't be turned off. I'm not sure, but maybe I learned at a young age that nothing good comes from loud noises. Does it? Thunder? Bad. A crashing sound in another room? Bad. Fireworks? Some may say good, but anything that explodes can be hazardous to one's health. Tornado sirens? Those are the worst as NOTHING good comes from them.

As the sound starts to subside my emotions and physical sensations are still going wild. It isn't an instant calm and it may take a few minutes. If the sound is the right frequency I will continue to hear the noise and if I hear a tornado siren I will hear the noise in my head for hours after. Slowly though the sharp tingles in my arms and legs will ebb and my heart rate will come back to normal and the pain will start to vanish.

Because of the adverse effects of noise I am always on the look out for it and that is why I am shaky around items that could produce loud noises. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, walking through the pits towards the trailer was difficult because of all the cars parked in the pits. I knew that any of those cars could start up at any point in time. For those of us on the spectrum we are highly defensive and observant in our surroundings. We have to be because we do try and avoid those moments of uncomfortableness. However, we can take this is a level that creates just as much discomfort as the sound itself.

The anticipation of the sound is almost as bad as the sound itself. The pulse increases to a point of pain, the legs get the sharp needle like tingles, and the arms become like 10 ton weights. The thoughts of, "run run run..." come back and my brain is telling me that the area is unsafe. And this is the thing, loud noises are seen as unsafe and when I was always told, "don't worry about it" I saw it as the same thing as if I were playing on top of a 20 story building without walls, ropes, or nets. Falling off would be bad, but I saw, and sometimes still do, see loud noises just as dangerous as playing atop a building.

Most of all, between both types of sound, it is tiring. The feeling afterwards is of pure exhaustion. I am much better now than I used to be and maybe that is because, from flagging all these years, my body as slowly learned that not everything that is loud is bad. As a child I would scream and do everything I could to avoid noises. At sporting events when they would use concussion fireworks at the start of the event I would be in the concourse or sometimes out of the arena because it just hurt to bad. What did my parents think? I'm not sure, but it wasn't that the noise was simply uncomfortable but rather it truly hurt. And concussion fireworks are a double problem as there is an anticipation that is unmatched followed up by a noise that can be felt throughout the entire body.

To cap off talking about the anticipation of sound, have you ever watched a movie that made you jump? In some movies it is somewhat obvious as to when the thing, monster, alien, or scary guy in a mask is going to jump out of somewhere with loud noises and screams coming from the screen when this happens. The anticipation I get when watching a movie like that is somewhat like the same anticipation feelings I get when around something that could make a loud noise. However, it is only a fraction of what I feel. So if you can think back to a movie experience you've had, multiply the feeling in your chest and the slight sense of danger by about 1,000 and you will have a good idea of what I endure around things that could become loud.

So, I hope I've done a decent job explaining noises. It's something I wish, as a child, I could have described because it wasn't my parents fault, and it wasn't that I simply couldn't, "get over it" but rather it truly is a painful experience. Remember though each child/adult on the spectrum is different and the feelings and emotions could be different than mine, but if there is a loud noise and the behavior changes, well, I hope my words can help you associate with what it feels like on the outside.

Monday, September 19, 2022

The State of Now

I often say, "if there's one thing I could change about being on the autism spectrum..." Well, today is another one of those days.

Last week I talked about the worry about the transition from INDYCAR to the off-season and while I enjoyed the restful week, I often found myself looking at Facebook memories and photos on my phone. Doing this found myself pining for the day of long hours on the road being a presented going here, there, and everywhere.

I've been this way my entire life and it's probably exhausting for those that know me because everything truly is how everything is now; if the state of now is bad, then, with the concept of "past, present, and oblivion" in play, it means that what was is no more and what is will be forever, and what's to come is impossible to fathom. 

I know I'll present again, but because it isn't now it doesn't seem like it's a reality. It's difficult knowing, and not knowing at the same point in time. 

This same duality caused issues for me in school. I knew I was learning, I knew the closing bell on Friday would come, but in the midst of the storm it felt as if that would never come.

There is an exciting thing coming up for me though. Sunday, or perhaps Saturday, I'll be headed west in my car for a writing road trip with a SKUSA PKC race sprinkled in the middle out at Auto Club Speedway. What will make this trip exciting for me is that it'll fall right near the 19 year anniversary of the month I was in Vegas as a race car driving instructor. Do expect some retrospective blog posts from the road and I'm elated for it.

See, my mood is already better. The state of now went from the impossible future to something I know will happen in just a short amount of time. Too bad I don't know how to harness this to utilize it each time I'm stuck in the realm of stasis. 

Friday, September 16, 2022

The Conscious Coma Revisited

I wrote a chapter many years ago that's in my book Finding Kansas about a phenomenon that I entitled the "conscious coma." In it, if I remember correctly, I stated that there are times when it feels as if I am on autopilot and the passage of time and other daily activities are sort of lost. Recently, this has been happening a lot.

For the past couple weeks I have been highly anxious. And here's the tricky thing; I don't really know what I'm anxious about but the feeling is unmistakable. It feels as if I'm constantly falling and all in all it is rather tiresome.

I might have written this back when I wrote the original chapter (I don't remember what I write) but I am now certain that there is certainly a connection between the conscious coma and anxiety as the higher the level of anxiety the greater the chances of a conscious coma situation arising. Thinking back to when I was just starting to write I was under more stress than I knew what to do with so that would add to my belief that the two are connected.

So what happens during a conscious coma? I believe my mind goes so deep within itself that the passage of time is lost on me as well as the task of doing small activities becomes automated. Several times the past month I have left my house only to panic an hour later as I could not recall if I had locked the door. Also I have forgotten things at hotels and at home while traveling and I have left my wallet at home a couple times. These are things I typically will never have happen!

In conversations with other people on the spectrum I have heard this type of story so I know I am not alone in my struggles with the conscious coma. If you have a family member that's on the spectrum understanding this abstract concept is an absolute must because, as anxiety rises, things just become more difficult. Yes, I know, that concept applies to everyone but for us on the spectrum it's as if we can only tolerate so much and once the proverbial cup overfills an overload occurs and then routine things can be overlooked despite the fact that the person might have a fine eye for details.

That's where I am at right now. I can't put my finger on what it is that's causing me this tension or anxiety and to be honest I'm not all that mad about; in fact quite the contrary as I thing the past two weeks on my blog have been great and I write my best stuff while in these conscious comas such as being able to write this today. This will pass, but until it does I'm just going to have to put more mental effort in checking everything I do so I don't autopilot my way through the day and then panic on if I locked my front door, or car door, or remembered to eat.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

One Last Article

 It was an amazing year of publicity about my story this year with INDYCAR. A story came out yesterday capping off an amazing year of autism understanding https://www.hagerty.com/media/people/indycars-head-flagman-follows-his-dreams-while-raising-autism-awareness/

Monday, September 12, 2022

Pictures

The season is over. I write this in an extremely busy Dallas Love Field. It was about a three-hour flight from San Jose this morning and that gave me time to reflect on the year that was.

I take a lot of photos. For some reason I have quite the eye for unique shots, but that's not my motivation to take photos around the track. Instead, it's a way to help my memory of that exact moment in time. You may think it's about the moment in time at the track, but that's not the full story.

Yes, I love life at the track, and yes, my photos tend to be "showing off" as one of my coworkers will say, but as I scrolled through my photos of the year, I was reminded of the people I work with. 

Through photos of my environment, I remember the conversations, the laughter, and yes, the long hours. Because of this, the photos I've taken far exceed the value based on a composition level and they get to the level of unmeasured value.

I can't speak for everyone on the autism spectrum, but for myself, any item that is tied to memories quickly becomes a vital item. This also applies to the bits of data that composes the photos I've taken. 

During the flight, I attempted to delete photos that weren't up to par on quality, and I struggled. I remembered the place, the people, the smells... I don't want to forget all of that, even when the photo may have been on a P that I mistook as an R on a label. 

I wasn't able to properly say goodbye to my coworkers as ends are hard for me. There's no way I can verbalize what they mean to me, but the 2023 season will be here before I know it. We will do everything we did this year once more with new memories, new photos, and in a year, I'll once again be on a flight at the end of the year wondering where the time went, and not being able to delete the photos off my phone once more.

Friday, September 9, 2022

A Season’s End

I don’t want the weekend to end. It’s only just begun, but I’m dreading Sunday night because it’ll mean the end of the NTT INDYCAR Series 2022 season. 

Change is difficult. I’ve grown accustomed to the long hours, living out of a suitcase, and the socializing with coworkers. 

Change is difficult. Next week I won’t have a calendar to go by, I won’t have a minute by minute guide to how the day is going to go, and I won’t be dealing with flight itineraries and airports. 

Change is extremely difficult. The longer something is the more difficult it is to adjust. This season has been a dream. Truly, the autism understanding outreach that has been achieved through my position has been amazing. Come Monday, the 2022 campaign will be concluded. 

There needs to be balance though. The hours have been long, the early mornings are a grind, and even when I’ve had a week off there hasn’t really been rest. I live for this though. 

By no means will my off season be boring. I’ve got a couple trips and several kart races lined up. I’ll be able to recharge my proverbial batteries. It’ll be funny though, because I can see the follow up post to this, “a season’s beginning” and I’ll be discussing that change is difficult. I’ve grown accustomed to no calendar, no schedule, and how difficult it is to go from that back to the whirlwind life that is living life on the road with the NTT INDYCAR Series. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Programs

 

I write this at 30,000 ft headed to the final INDYCAR race of the year. I’ve been thinking heavily on the divide post from yesterday and I’ve been hung up on what the difference is. I know my Alias concept I put forth in my book Finding Kansas, but what is it and how can I explain it? After much thought, I have my answer.

            Kansas is critical. My book was titled after the concept, and it’s the core of my being. Within the borders, all is known. Okay, but what outside of that becomes difficult? Why is there the divide? Living life on the autism spectrum is a black and white world. It’s all or nothing, which means there’s either extreme proficiency, or there’s none. True, there may be none, but why is the realm outside Kansas so hard to navigate? The answer is within my cement theory.

            Cement Theory is based on the data that the earlier individuals on the autism spectrum get support, the faster the rate of growth is. I use the imagery of a patio poured outside a home. If some teenager comes and scribbles “So and so loves so and so” in the middle of the night pouring, the next morning it may still be wet enough to smooth it over. If you see it a week from Thursday, it’ll take a whole lot more work to get it the way you want it.

            How does two seemingly unrelated concepts coincide with each other? It goes back to the all or nothing system. When I’m within Kansas, things make sense, and the world becomes smaller. When the world is smaller the mathematical possibilities of what could occur decrease greatly. This limits the amount of processing that must occur which then finally allows my brain to learn and grow within the environment and eventually a program is formed.

            Program? Yes, I noticed over the weekend that the things I’m good at and excel at are all based in repetition. Through repetition a program is formed much like a program on a computer that knows exactly what must occur and when. And, because I’m not thinking about the external things that must occur because they are ingrained, my ability to communicate while working at the job increases more than you can imagine and only few have seen.

            My takeaway from this is that the concept of Kansas is even more important than I first thought all those years ago because, when one is within Kansas, the skills outside of the borders of Kansas can grow. This doesn’t mean things are going to be come easy, but growth will happen. There will still be times where The Divide feels impossible, and the chasm between Kansas and not stretches beyond what the eye can see, but the understanding of this could make it to where it doesn’t seem as impossible as before.

            Secondly, all the repetition I’ve done in my life going all the way back to when I was young, was a way I was writing programs in my brain. Yes, there does need to be branching out to create new programs, but without a core program it could be difficult to find that sweet spot of growth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, September 5, 2022

The Divide

There I stand, I’m perplexed if I need to respond. I think someone asked me something, but I’m unsure. I don’t know if I should turn my gaze the way I heard because that’ll open up a new conundrum because if they didn’t say something they’ll be confused if I looked, and if they did say something and I look and I don’t have an answer to the question posed, well, they’ll be confused. I can’t win, and I am pining for relief… the relief that comes from being within Kansas.

There I stand. I’m assured in every response I give. The confidence in my voice in unmatched, and my body moves without any thought of my posture. I am free. There are no worries about gazing the wrong way, and if I’m unsure about something, or if a question was posed, I’ll ask for clarification. This is freedom. This is an elation that transcends my ability as a writer to truly relay to you what it’s like, but it is Kansas, and when I’m there I forget what it’s like when I’m not. 

The divide is growing. I’ve always known about the divide and in my presentation I have said, since presentation #1, “if you were paralyzed in every state except Kansas, where would you want to live?” That’s a question to the superlative, but that’s what life on the autism spectrum sometimes brings. For those of us on the spectrum, Kansas is that activity or interest we excel at, we may know everything and more about it, and it’s our supreme motivation.

The dual existence is taxing. The Kansas mentioned above is how I feel when I’m in the flag stand, such as yesterday for the NTT INDYCAR Series race in Portland. The pressure of that job is such that many individuals not on the autism spectrum would run as fast as they could away from it. I embrace it. In the most hectic of environments one could find, I thrive, and yet such an activity can’t be 365 days a year. 

I work with the best people in the world. Their understanding of my strengths and weaknesses brings tears to my eyes. It wasn’t always that way, and for many it still isn’t the reality of now, but for me I feel horrible when I can only withdraw. I over process, I answer questions that weren’t asked, and answer rhetorical questions. It’s much like there’s a dance going on and everyone else knows the rhythm and beats, while I stay out of step regardless the amount of practice I do. 

Why is understanding important? I said I work with the best people in the world, and it’s within the understanding of the duality that has kept me in the game. My seemingly aloof ways at time could be taken 1,000 wrong ways, but it never has. It would be so easy for me to give up and withdraw completely, that’s what my innermost thoughts tell me to do, but Kansas is the supreme motivator. 

It’s hard being out of Kansas when I know how easy speech and movements can be. Heck, look at all the times I’ve shared the buzz created by the simple act of waving a flag. This, coming from a person that had no athletic ability growing up and absolutely no grace in any of my movements. Within Kansas though, well, the impossible may just be possible. 

However, as mentioned, being out of Kansas is difficult. The difference between soaring and being grounded without wings is drastic. Ever with great understanding around me, I will still feel bad. You won’t see this, and most of the time I won’t want you to know. I must seem stoic to not let you see the panic within. Should I answer? Should I make eye contact? Should I assist in whatever it is that’s occurring? Did I do the right thing five minutes ago… the questions will rage on with no answer compounding the confusion. 

It’ll be worth it. Get us in our topic, interest, or activity and we may light up. I always have. It’s been my motivation, and I’m not sure where I’d be if my Kansas had ever been ripped away from me. Time and time again the impossible happened, but time and time again I’ll be in a position out of Kansas, and whether it’s me, or another person you meet on the autism spectrum, be aware of this duality and you may see us be fully confident in every movement we do, and then the next be lost as to what dance is going on. It’s okay though, for me, because I may not know the dance steps but I assure you few know the sensation I have when I soar high above the clouds go Kansas. 

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Positional Warfare

 It's been a while since I talked about the "positional warfare" so let me begin my stating what that is. There's a phrase out there that says, "people on the autism spectrum may appear uncomfortable in their own skin." I refer to this as the "positional warfare" and what that means is that, quite simple, I don't know how I should be in the space I'm in. It's like an itch that can't be scratched and no matter how I stand, and no matter how I have my arms and any other part of myself, nothing seems right.


Now looking at my title of this blog how does this positional battle and other people come into play? This happened rather frequently when I was younger and in school, but when I saw other kids move about in the classroom with confidence, or had complete control of their bodies playing soccer or basketball, I always became even more conscious of the fact that I had no idea what I was doing.

No idea, what does that mean? I mean this as literal as possible; there wasn't a second that I wasn't thinking about where I was in the space I am in. To watch others move effortlessly and without thought always made me more aware that I couldn't do that. I always tried to "try harder" when I saw other people move and anytime any person tries to think or try harder nothing good comes from it.

I remember always thinking, "how can they do that?" because every one of my motions is thought of, and analyzed, then debated, then acted upon while others always seemed to move with an air of confidence that couldn't be contained. Perhaps they didn't have confidence at all, but that is irrelevant because I perceived it which always made me feel rather small.

I have talked about others and I don't want you to take this as if this is any sort of complaint about those who moved with confidence. It's not. But my perception of how others moved about is the key thing here. I know, back then, I would have given anything to be able to just move, walk, stand, or sit with that same confidence. It became absolutely tiresome trying to always appear as if I were comfortable when I was not. And at that age I had no way of expressing this at all, and the fact that I wasn't diagnosed yet didn't help either but even still, had I been diagnosed, I don't know if I could have explained this.

This is a topic that, unless you've felt it, I'm not sure you can appreciate just how big of a deal this is. Imagine always have a self-conscious part of you that can't be satisfied because you don't know what is right or wrong in terms of walking, standing, and posture and the harder you try to fit in the more awkward the whole situation becomes. This is the essence of the positional warfare and for myself, when I was around confidence, or rather perceived confidence, it just got worse and I had no idea why and no idea why I was different.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

“Stay off the Grass”

Recently, at a track, I was walking alongside the track on a curb when a track vehicle drove by and stopped at me. I looked in as they rolled the window down and the driver shouted, “hey, how about you stay off the grass?” I looked down and saw I wasn’t on the grass so I was about to argue the point, but then the car drove off. 

I was confused. I wasn’t in the grass, and when I looked at the grass the grass was, well, it was dead. It was all dead. Why would they tell me to stay off a dead patch of grass when it was primarily hard soil?

When I got back to my coworkers I mentioned that they wanted us off the grass which resulted in some laughs. They looked at the grass and said, “what grass?” I was perplexed.

A lot of us on the autism spectrum struggle with humor, and this turned out to be a joke which I didn’t understand. Each day can introduce a challenge for those on the autism spectrum for two reasons. The first, as in my example, is not understanding that it was said in jest. Secondly, a person could think something was a joke when in reality it was not. 

It seems obvious after the fact, but the extra processing time requires an answer before understanding is in place and by trying to avoid the social error we commit a social error. For others, this understanding of joke or not a joke is more ingrained, but for us on the spectrum, well, next time you hear a comment like the one I explained today I’d like you to think about how difficult it would be if you didn’t understand if something was or wasn’t a joke, or was or wasn’t a command. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Post from the Past: The Usher vs. Aaron

This was from 2010 and I still remember this vividly…

Last Friday I went to my very first NHL game and for the most part it was great. The sounds of the game in person is something that one can't appreciate at home. The sounds of the blades on the ice are so sharp and crisp, the sound of the bodies slamming against the boards is enough that you can feel the pain, and the sound of the pucks hitting the sticks is nothing short of awesome. However great that experience was was I had a moment of my own in the 1st intermission that over shadowed the night.

What happened between the 1st and 2nd periods is a classic example of something that would, for most people, be minor and a non-event. For me though the anxiety is still with me like it just happened.

Yes, I can see how this event wouldn't be remembered by most people. I'm not like most people though. What happened was this: Between periods I was craving nachos and a soda. I waited for the lines to thin out somewhat and went with 6 minutes to go in the intermission. The price for nachos and a soda came out to $13.25! For what it is worth though there were free refills on the soda. With soda and nachos in my hands I proceeded back to my seat. This is where the usher enters our story

As I walked from the concourse through the small tunnel like chute to the inner arena I had my eyes locked on my seats. Walking amid a group of people that are coming and going is always a stressful experience for me so I have to keep my eye on the final destination. If I look at my immediate surroundings I may make eye contact or look at someone in a wrong way (don't ask what a wrong way is as I'm not sure what it is, which is why I try to avoid it). That being said I keep my eye on the finish line.

I passed the usher and was just about to go down the stairs towards my seat when all the sensory alarms went off in my body. It wasn't much as it was just a tap on the shoulder, but the sensation of touch on my shoulders is considerably higher than anywhere else on my body. To put lightly, unless I know the person and it is expected, any touch on my shoulders is something I would avoid at any cost. A tap on the shoulder is like being tapped everywhere on my body all at once and that is a lot of information to process.

I was set on my destination and this tap threw me off. So much so that I nearly took a tumble down the stairs. I was startled, and processing what just happened and thankfully I was stopped by the railing that goes down the middle. What was the meaning of the tap on the shoulder? She needed to see my ticket.

My senses were violated because she needed to check my ticket even though she had checked it before the game. Okay, so maybe she didn't have a good memory, but I'm still a little irked of the end result that happened. Sadly, the bout wasn't over.

She needed to see my ticket, but my ticket was in my pocket and I had both hands holding the drink and the nachos. I was in a startled state, and I realize now I didn't vocalize anything after being startled. Truly I didn't say a word as I was processing so much information that the actual world took a back seat to the anxiety of my body.

I was unable to say "my hands are full" and I started a small dance to try and illustrate this. I looked at my left hand, then my right, then my left, then down towards my left pocket, and then she said, "I'm sorry sir, I can't hold your drink". I was now lost. I had no idea what to do. What I wanted to do was teleport back to home and go to bed and never leave my bed. Being flooded with so many issues is a short amount of time that I couldn't foresee was just awful.

I started to have this odd jerky motion and I was filled with nothing but rage. Pure rage. The rage had no direction and wasn't towards anyone as I was just confused and scared. I didn't know what to do nor could I fully comprehend what was expected of me.

Finally, someone walking by asked me if I would like them to hold my drink, so I handed it to them and showed the usher my ticket. With drink in hand I made my way towards the stairs with the goal of sitting in my seat and slowly venting this anxiety and anger out of my system.

It happened again. A tap on the shoulders and again I nearly took a spill. "Sir" she said, "You can't go down the stairs and you must remain behind the blue line until play stops. Just as I began my trek towards my seat the 2nd period began. I heard her words but nothing made sense. Being tapped on the shoulder once is bad, but a 2nd time, after a tense two minutes was too much.

I just stared at her in befuddlement. She repeated her line and I slowly comprehended that if she had not put me through two minutes of torture, I would not have been in violation of crossing the line while the puck was in play. I was angry and confused.

While standing behind the magical no cross blue line I began to twitch. My rage was at my personal limit. The sensation of the tap to the shoulder would not go away and I could not comprehend why the usher was doing her job.

As my luck would have it, several minutes went by without a stoppage in play and I stood there shaking. All I wanted was nachos, a drink, and to return to my seat in peace. Something simple that most people could do without an event. My event I endured was worse than any fight that happens on the ice (I don't understand why they fight in hockey by the way. Hockey is a great sport, but the fighting just is so out of place).

With a stoppage, finally, I returned to my seat and slowly got my bearings. It's an event like this that I fear each and every day. If you aren't on the spectrum I don't know how you will understand this story. Perhaps if I tell you that I am teary eyed right now talking about this because it strikes fear in my heart. Pure fear. I don't know when an event like this will happen nor will the person that creates it know what happened. I can't blame the usher (I want to, trust me) for doing her job. How can one expect that a tap on the shoulder could have such an impact on a person?

Trying to operate in a world that can't foresee such impacts is difficult. I don't have a big "Don't touch me here" sign. I don't have a sign that says, "Don't interrupt while walking".

It's hard. It's a challenge. Life is nothing short of a fight and most times people don't know they started one. I don't fight with them though, it's a fight with my own mind and senses. It's because of this I hesitate each time when leaving the house.

The world is a dangerous place and is filled with many events that will prove to be hazardous. The problem is this; what is hazardous to me is a non-event for most people. People will put me in these positions and not even know it. The usher couldn't have known out much pain this would've caused me, and I don't think she ever knew. I kept it internal except for the shaking.

This event evoked a sense of fear I haven't felt in a while. This "usher vs. Aaron" event was something far more dramatic than two goons on the ice trying to punch the other guy's face in. My fight, that I think about each day, is about the battle of overcoming the fear of every day life. When will the next battle be? How bad will it be? Will I endure it? These questions I ponder each day, and this bout with the usher has me second guessing myself.

I'm here in the office though, I got out of bed this morning and life continues on. I'm fearful, but I won the fight. I fear the next one and wonder if I will overcome it, but how will I know if I will or won't overcome it unless I try? For this I play on.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Every day...

 

Every day I worry if this will be the day other’s will see through my chameleon ways. It’s one of my greatest fears. Every day is a battle to ensure I’m always in a position of safety; a position that will prevent a sensory issue, or an unexpected social situation.

It’s difficult for me to understand how other’s not on the spectrum go through their day fearless and not calculating all the possibilities that could lead to the situations I want to avoid at all costs. The liberation of that concept is impossible for me to conceive. So too, I expect that those not on the spectrum can’t fathom or appreciate just how draining it is.

Truly, it’s the essence of my being. All that I do in most situations every day is aimed and keeping the proverbial ship afloat. If you see me in person in an open environment, you can probably witness the magnetic repelling that goes on. As I walk near a person, my eyes as repelled from their eyes and my arms will naturally fold away from them. As I walk by my neck will lean away from them as I try to slither by unnoticed.

Every day I worry about the unknown. If you can, watch my eyes in a situation that may involve a sudden loud noise. When I walk past a fire alarm, my eyes focus in on it with a sense of dread awaiting the blaring of sensory knives to my body. Or, if a semi-truck drives by slowly, I’ll await the sudden blast of the horn that is an adrenaline tsunami inducing event.

Yes, I don’t know if you can appreciate the courage it takes to leave the front door, nor can I imagine living in the world without this constant albatross of pure dread awaiting the next time my autism becomes obvious.

I know with every day that passes people become more and more understanding of the autism spectrum, but if I retreat from a loud noise with haste, I still worry how that will be perceived. Will it cost me a chance, a friendship, or most of all I fear having to have a conversation about it. In these situations, the last thing I want to do is explain what happened and why it happened. Every day I dream of the day there’s no need to. I dream of the day that I don’t have to look at people in fear on how they might be mad as my body is metaphorically magnetically repelled by them, or the fear of the random sensory event.

Every day I’m exhausted by trying my best to hide what my body wants to do. No matter how much I write, you will more than likely never understand the level of exhaustion experienced by those on the spectrum unless you live it. However, I keep going. As dire or catastrophic as my words may seem in this post, every day I keep going. I put myself in situations that surprise even myself. The world is just too grand, too awesome, and too interesting to not. That’s why every day I wonder how to increase the world’s level of understanding. There are millions of others like me out there that will look at the sensory element they loathe. There are others that will do everything they can to avoid any social encounter. I’ve had awful social encounters due to autism, but I haven’t let it deter me from seeing this world and continuing onward. With no understanding, another person may think that every day is impossible and that each day they leave home they will have nothing but heartache and pain. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Understanding is the foundation for hope and yes, there’s a chance a person can be nothing short of a jerk, and there’s a chance that fire alarm will go off, but understanding of sensory issues, and autism exhaustion/burnout, may just be that little bit to keep a person motivated in seeing all there is to offer in this wonderful world and avoid the pit of thinking that every day is hell.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Memories of Nintendo Power

I became a subscriber of Nintendo Power in 1991. It was absolutely awesome to have a magazine come to my house, at the age of eight, and each month I awaited in anticipation for the arrival of that's month's edition. I mean, my parents had Newsweek and I had Nintendo Power.


In my room I had a cabinet that I would place each month's magazine so I have every issue so as I opened the box that had all the issues I was able to go back to those days in 1991. My first thought was, "wow, gaming has come A LONG WAYS!" as there's a preview for Bill Elliott's NASCAR Challenge. To think racing games went from that to the graphical bliss that Gran Turismo is or the realism and structure of iRacing, back then, would be impossible.

This trip to the past was more than just about the games as it took me back to those places and times. The games that were previewed back then that I got I remember getting. In that first issue there was a review of the game Monopoly for the Nintendo. I remember my parents getting me that game. It wasn't on the most pleasant of occasions as I noticed the game under my dad's seat in the car. I didn't mention anything about it because we were on the way to the hospital and I was about to have my tonsils removed. I treasured that came ever since, up until early 2009 when I sold my NES and the 80 games I had because I needed the money to pay my credit card bill.

Another thing that I remembered was, as I mentioned, the anticipation each month for the issue to come in the mail. As the end of the month approached the last few hours of each school day felt like years as, once we were released, I'd run home (I only lived three blocks from school) to either find utter disappointment of sheer elation. That's one thing that I don't think anyone today can feel. What I mean is, think about information on games or anything. Why wait an entire month for reviews or information on games. One can go to ign.com or metacritic and get as much or as little information as they want when they want it. I don't know if this is good, or bad, or either, but there was something about being able to hold the magazine and feel the materials of the magazine.

As I went forward in time and I got to the time that the Super Nintendo was released I went back to that era. Of all the systems that have been released I was most impressed with the Super Nintendo. From Super Mario World, to F-Zero, to SimCity and Pilotwings, I had seen nothing like it. It also probably didn't hurt that it was a birthday gift, but I felt a strong sense of happiness and sorrow all in one. Happy for the memories that were, but sad in that these memories were from over 20 years ago and yet, for me, it felt as if it were five minutes ago.

I eventually got to the issues of the N64 and that era, for me, is one that I don't fully remember as vividly as the previous. School was getting near impossible for me and no one knew why I was different. There was one issue that I won't forget and that is issue #110. Five months prior there was a challenge for the "highest scores in one round on Wheel of Fortune 64." To do this one would get a high score, take a picture (with film and have it developed. Remember those days?) and then send it in. I came up with a slight "trick" to do this and I ended up with the 2nd highest score with the winner doing the same trick as myself, just a little bit more (I didn't want to make it too obvious, the winner did.)

In the end as I scanned my final issues, which was in the 2002 year (Nintendo Power's last issue was December 2012) and I went back to the beginning and noticed the letters section and that did it for me; I was now overwhelmed. Looking at the names of those that wrote in, and some of the pictures of kids dressed as Mario and, well, I felt a wide array of emotions as I wondered who those people are now, what they're doing, and what type of life they've had. It's an odd feeling, it truly is, to be overwhelmed by such a thought like this for people I've never met, never known, and will probably never meet. Perhaps this all was all due to the fact that I don't like change, I struggle with accepting the passage of time, and what more could possibly show all this than being able to go back and visit the past in the form of a magazine. You see, websites can be updated; heck, I can go back and edit any of my blog posts going back to the beginning. My blog has also had several different looks to it over the years and for many people I'm sure web browsers have changed, monitors have changed, but for those magazines, they are like they were on the days I first got them in the mail. The world has progressed, time has moved on, but for a magazine they are frozen in time, and forever will be, and there's something special about that. This is something that, maybe in 100 years, will be unheard of.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Ghosts of Friend's List Past

Of all the misconceptions about the autism spectrum that are out there, the one that gets me riled up the most is that we don't care about others. I know that, for myself, I do but it looks a bit differently than the way others show it. The proverbial ice takes much longer to get broken than others, but once it is, I usually will remember a person forever and there's nowhere this is more obvious than my Xbox friends list.

It's been amazing that, the sophisticated the Xbox Live service has become, the more solitude it seems is out there now. Also, people's attitude are much worse than when I first played online in 2004. However, as I glance at my friend's list, I am reminded of people I played with for years, and others that may have been just one evening. 

There's a gamertag, Prognosis, that I remember vividly. It was February 2006, and we played a ton of Halo 2. He was a doctoral student at IU, and we played with his girlfriend and another friend of theirs. I don't know how I got into a party with them, but the evening I played was the eve of my trip to Madagascar and I was trying to adjust my hours so I could sleep on the long flights. Anyway, we had deep discussions about life, travel, Africa, Halo, and as the sun came broke the horizon, they were done with their all-nighter and went to sleep. When I returned from my trip, their accounts were offline and have been since then. It's amazing how one evening of conversation can stick with a person, and it's been 16 years, but I can't delete them off my list because, in a way, that would be the deletion of their memory.

I have a former coworker from GameStop, the person I first added to my friend's list, dozens of people that I raced for years and years, and several that I've met in person. Each, however, mean so much to me. When I first played online, I did everything I could to maintain anonymity. I played to win and nothing more. Slowly, I opened up and with each friendship developed I learned something more. These aren't just random names on a list to me, but rather a deep meaning of progress, friendship, and competition. 

It's a unique thing, I think, that I'm able to see each person I added. Well, think of the people you worked with and were cordial with, and perhaps there's a person you've tried to remember their name that you worked with 20 years ago. With a list like Xbox has, you'd always be able to recall the name. This, though, leads to the "whatever happened to..." questions. There are many ghosts on my list that may never reappear. For most, gaming with a random person is just that, random, but for those circles people invited me into, those days were special. I think over half my lists are now ghosts. I'll never know what happened to most of them, but they'll also have no idea how much it meant to me and my development to have been included in what may have been just one evening of Halo. Yes, there's a misconception out there that those on the spectrum don't care about others, but for myself, I may be delayed in picking up on social cues, and maybe delayed in offering support when a person needs it, but those that I've come across mean so much to me I can't even delete their name off a list I have, even if they are a ghost of the past.