Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Memory in Senses

“Standby starter…” those are the words I hear over the radio each time a practice session is about to go green. I had the green flag in hand eight days ago for the Indy 500 open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I get the alert with ten seconds to go, and I looked up at the pagoda, which now had sunlight reflecting off of it. I get chills each time I step onto the grounds at IMS, but when I heard “green flag starter, green flag” and as I let the green flag fly, the smell of the race fuel hit me, and I was… I was brought back to 1987, and my first-time seeing cars at the track going faster than my childhood brain could have ever imagined.

I felt a sense of warmth unlike anything else. I smiled with a peace that was almost to the point of being unexplainable. Thankfully I can, and the smell brought back memories of my favorite place on Earth, but also of those that I've been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with.

The few cars that stayed out on this opening lap got my waving green and as I put the flag back in the holder and listened to the cars going through the south chute the sound, as well, took me back in time. Yes, the volume, and pitch of the engines have changed over the years, but the sound of engines echoing off of the stands is a sound that hasn’t changed. Once again, an overwhelming sense of emotion flooded over me. I looked over my shoulder to the spot I sat in 1992 when I had one of the best seats in the house to when Unser Jr. just barely edged out Goodyear in the closest finish of the 500. This made me remember the man that was flagging that day, Duane Sweeney, and all that he did for me in the kindest act I can ever know, and can never repay.

As the hours progressed and I allowed myself to fully be immersed in the senses I couldn’t help but tear up. This wouldn’t happen in the middle of the race mind you, as that’s a full on assault of focus, but as there were just a few cars on track I was able to reflect on what I was experiencing and I smiled as the near irony that I, for once, wasn’t looking at the senses in a negative light like I so often do, and many of us on the autism spectrum will as well, but the memory in these senses brought back the warmest and safest of thoughts.

Time was running out on the session, and the smells of race fuel once again fueled my memories. The smells kindled up memories of my dad, and all the years we’ve been going to the track together. I smiled as time expired, and the cars flashed underneath me, almost in a mock finish as there were a lot of passes for a test session, and as the final car went by and disappeared into turn one, I finally allowed myself the full immersion in these emotions.

I smiled. I believe the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of, if not the most magical places on Earth. Since 1911 people have been making the trek to the Speedway for the 500, and the love of the place and race has been passed down through the generations. I thought back to Sweeney, who had his last race in 1997, and that his legacy will live on forever. I thought about my dad and when he’s no longer here I know that each time I get the whiff of race fuel I’ll be taken back to cheering the cars going by in 1987. His legacy will live on.

In one month the 106th Indianapolis 500 will be run and as hundreds of thousands of race fans gather, I know there will be many, many thousands that have an emotional response as I do. We will remember those that came before us be it those that first showed us the track, those that attended with us, journeyman drivers that tried, and the champions that excelled. We will also be cheering on the drivers competing that day, and perhaps some will be sharing the Speedway with those that will be exposed to the place for the first time. This will be my girlfriend’s first 500 and I hope there will be dozens to come thereafter. And of course, for someone like myself who tends to think way too much, I will be thinking about what is to come. Someday, maybe, there will be a fan like I was that will take my spot in the flagstand and maybe, in 75 years, they too will think about those that came before them, they too will be taken aback by whatever the smells of whatever energy is powering the cars, and they too will become lost at the most magical place on Earth.


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

A Special Kind of Angst

“Make it stop!” those were the words I was repeating as my eyes darted around the room. I was hoping the person speaking, as well as my girlfriend, wasn’t noticing the sheer terror I was in the midst of experiencing. Was this some sort of talking down I was receiving? Or perhaps a lecture in the ways of comma usage I don’t understand? Was this anything involving me or my actions? Well, I really wish I could say so seeing I started this blogpost with such a dramatic statement of wanting it to stop, but it wasn’t. Nope, it wasn’t anything potentially “cool” and there were no talks about commas. Instead, it was a waiter stating the restaurant’s specials for that night that weren’t on the menu.

Ordering at a restaurant is not the easiest of things for me. For those that have been to enough restaurants with me, they’ll be able to almost recite my orders. As I state in my presentation, “Whatever I got first at a restaurant and liked I’ll always get.” This isn’t a sometimes rule. This is the way it is. Trying something new, even one bite, isn’t in the cards. I know what I like, that’s what I get, and my coworkers at INDYCAR can almost recite my orders word for word and sometimes will join in when I get to the “diet coke with grenadine no ice”.

There’s calm in sameness, and there’s panic when things go off script. I struggle in collective talk, and ordering is one of those times. I sound robotic because I try not to deviate from what I say because deviation may create a reason to make eye contact with the waiter. I do try and avoid this because, well, I try to avoid eye contact with most everyone. Why avoid eye contact with a waiter? There’s an infinite amount of information and an impossible amount of humanity to process when eye contact is made that if I do make eye contact my words for my order will be jumbled or my delivery will be a mess and then a second reciting of my order will be needed. This furthers processing and will make the dinner a most unenjoyable situation. Therefore, when the reading of specials happens that I wasn’t prepared for, well, there’s panic.

I may be robotic/flat in my order giving, I’ve noticed that waiters and waitresses sort of do a bob and weave when giving the off-menu specials. This makes the attempt to avoid eye contact even more difficult… and obvious.

I’m aware of my difficulties here, and how they can be perceived. My goal in daily life is one of a chameleon. I don’t want to be noticed or seen because to be either of those requires extra processing. During the reading of specials, I can’t, with any accuracy, estimate the time it’s going to take. Of course I can’t say, “not interested” because that would be rude. However, I’m sure it’s rude doing the eye dance around the room doing everything possible to avoid eye contact so I can remember my order and not have to go back to the menu to remember what I’ve ordered so many times before.

The enemy for me, here, is processing. This challenge extends far outside the confines of a restaurant. Think of any given environment where the unexpected could happen… that’s everywhere, right? It is, and for myself, in school, I struggled with the unexpected reading or conversation akin to the specials at a restaurant.

What do I want you to take away from this post? The main thing is that, when the waiter is doing the bob and weave reciting the specials, to which many patrons would enjoy something new, I’m not trying to be disrespectful to whomever is speaking during whatever the situation may be. I’m just trying not to forget what I have to say or do. It doesn’t take much to derail my train of thought and by looking away I’m attempting to respect the person that is speaking so I’m able to respond in a timely manner. This is hard to explain on the fly as it’s happening so if you come across a person that is exhibiting a behavior much like I’ve described I’m hopeful you’ll understand that no disrespect is intended, but rather I’m just trying to do a bob and weave of my own so I can reply and life can move on without any additional angst, fear, or excessive amounts of processing.




Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Anguishing in Languish

It has a name. That’s the first step, right? It’s been difficult to describe to those around me the lack of motivation I have when I’ve been home. Starting anything new, be it a book, game, or Netflix series has been impossible. Writing has been a challenge and my normal time of upload hasn’t always been before new. Creativity isn’t the problem as I have a multitude of ideas, but the execution of ideas is.

My entire writing life has been based on identifying a problem, isolating it, writing about it, and creating a pathway forward through understanding. Since the beginning of the pandemic the process has changed. I accounted for many different variables, but when my girlfriend showed me an interview with a New York Times writer, well, things finally made sense.

Hearing that interview, I instantly began visually seeing the problem. I knew the problem wasn’t when I’m away from home when I’m amid the long hours of working with INDYCAR. What could be the issue then? I knew it wasn’t simple laziness because working 50+ hours in five days is a breeze. What then could cause such a split depending on the environment? I believe it’s languish with a hint of autism spectrum thrown in.

When the pandemic began, I lost my livelihood. The only thing I had was accepting fate and staying at home with no prospect of anything new ever happening again. As the months progressed this feeling grew more and more solid as if wet cement were turning into hardened concrete. Then, in June of 2020, I picked up working for INDYCAR, which helped being away from home, but being home remained a problem.

Talking with my girlfriend after the video I worked through the issue. Why was there this gap? Why, when I’m home, does everything seem impossible? As the interview said, those that reported this didn’t report straight up depression. I then thought about my statements of both, “whatever happens first always has to happen” and, “whatever is now is forever”. During the pandemic I learned, through flawed logic, that any chance of me recovering my career was over. This has proven to be a falsehood, but it lasted so long that the inertia of the “forever” was strong. This would mean that I can’t simply “forget” the anguish that led to the languish.

What could help me, though? I was hung up on this. I then drew a shape that illustrated my routine right now. Imagine a circus tent with outer poles with wires stretched straight out to a curved semi-circle in the middle before going straight out again. This is much like my routine with INDYCAR being the straight lines and being home the dip. In the dip, like the onset of the pandemic, I’m a demagnetized compass attempting to find my way.

Seeing a visual representation of my schedule helped. Actually, it blew the solution for me wide open. When I’m home I’ve got to create some sort of structure to escape the chains that were created in the pandemic. Presentations will happen again, I’ve got my dream job with INDYCAR, and things are the best I’ve ever had them. Living this duality of either being fully engaged at the track or being lost at home is not sustainable. I don’t have much home time though through the rest of the season, and the month of May in Indianapolis begins in just two weeks, but simple things during the season should help.

I’m excited to see if the simple adjustments I’m envisioning will help. I will be instituting a schedule of sorts to build the routine to end the spinning compass. Perhaps I dedicate a day for golf and another day to go bicycle riding. One of the solutions that the interview said was to become lost in a topic or activity. This used to not be a problem for me, as it is for most of us on the autism spectrum. Think about that for a second because, for myself, I don’t think that can be stated enough. One of the things I lost in the pandemic was the ability to become obsessed about something. True, that in school this was hindrance to learning new things or time management skills, but a “Kansas” becoming a “hyper-Kansas” has been the way my brain has operated my entire life. There is such a sense of life and peace when one of these occurs and, while it may cut back on sleep hours when I want to learn everything there is to know about a certain topic, there’s such a sense of being complete to it. However, it’s impossible to hyperfocus on something when the ability to start any given task is impossible.

Maybe I’ve written something that sounds like what you’ve gone through the past two years. I hope either my words, or the interview about languish has helped, and I’m excited about the prospect of getting back to the person I was so I can once again enjoy life on, and especially off the track.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Good Deeds Aren't Forgotten

My girlfriend and I had dinner yesterday near where I worked at the videogame store. This brought back quite a few memories, and one was about the day I was almost late for work.

As I said, I was close to the video game store I worked at. I worked there for about nine months and during my 2nd month there I had an incident that almost saw me late for work. Now, at that point in time in my life, I believed that if a person was late, it was an instant firing. I believed this despite the fact that the store manager often was an hour late opening the store with me waiting there, but that's beside the point. Anyway, one day, as I was on I-55 headed to the mall and my 1983 Mazda 626 decided that it wanted to quit working and I lost all power.

This was my first time breaking down and this was back in 2001 and this was back in the day that when cell phones were something that only fancy people had. Thankfully I was chronically early, and I was considering walking to the mall, but I was still four miles away and then what about my car?

I sat there worrying myself to death, when all of a sudden a car pulled up behind me and stopped. "Did they break down too?" I said aloud. It was a nice car (Chrysler Sebring) and then this lady got out and walked up to my car. I rolled down the window and she asked, "Do you need some help?" Did I ever!

She allowed me to use her phone and I called my dad and he asked if my battery was connected, or if it made a this type of noise or that type of noise and to all the questions all I could say was, "I don't know." All the while I was still thinking about the fact that I was going to be late for my shift at the store and that meant life, as I knew it, was about to be over.

In fact, I was a broken record on this. I kept telling my dad that I didn't have time to wait for a tow truck and that I was going to walk. The lady overheard this and said, "Oh, it's on my way, I can take you." That worked out well because I guess all the vehicles of Saint Louis decided to break down because AAA had a three plus hour wait for tows. With that being so my dad told me to take the ride with the lady and we would deal with the car later.

And that's exactly what I did. The lady in the Sebring was very nice and it actually went against everything I believed in people back then because I believed everyone was cold, callous, and downright mean. And yet, she stopped on a busy interstate to see if I needed help and then gave me a ride to my job. How amazing is that?! She gave me her business card and she was an insurance salesperson and day after day I meant to call her to say thank you, but I never did. To this day I wish I would have made that call, and somewhere in a box I know I still have that business card, but I doubt I'll find it. So wherever you are Sebring driver I just wanted to say thanks. It's small acts of kindness like that which make the world a better place and of course you quelled my severe anxiety that day and is a reminder that, should the need arise, if you do a good deed that person may remember you forever.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Being Remembered

 I've always struggled with the concept of "out of sight, out of mind." This is a two-way street in that I'm sure most people I come across will forget me. Heck, when I was young, I was deathly afraid that my pets would forget who I was if I were gone just for a few days. All this happens despite constant reminders that my belief is a falsehood.

Earlier today I went to my bank to make a deposit. I have been saving for a big trip for quite some time and my preferred savings method is via $2 bills. As I entered the bank, a branch I haven't been in for over a decade, both tellers greeted me by name. I'm sure one of them was cursing my name after a deposit of so many $2s, but how did they remember me?

It actually brought a smile to my face, to be remembered after so long, but I was also confused. How many people do they see in a day? A week? Or in this case a decade? How did they remember? I don't know, and for myself I worried if anyone expected me to do so. I'm horrible with names but not in the case of being on the tip of my tongue; I'm bad at names because I try not to use them. Truly, I will do everything I can in person to not use a name be it a raised hand, a raised eyebrow, anything to not have to use a name.

Why avoid names? Oddly, it's because it's too person for me. At a race track I'll use names over the radio, but in person I won't. This makes it even more amazing, in my mind, that those two tellers remembered not only me but my name.

Lastly, this makes me sad. I know it is of the utmost respect to remember someone like they did and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to show that level of respect to someone I might've seen briefly once a month over a decade ago. I wish I could. I hope those that I can't remember won't hold it against me. I wish I could remember names, and faces which are hard because I try to avoid looking at people because there's so much information to process in a face, but it's amazing just how fast reminders come about being on the autism spectrum for myself. 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Days of Monopoly

 For as long as I can remember I have had an absolute love of the game Monopoly. Yesterday, while at the Joplin office, I saw a game of Monopoly in session and a huge smile formed on my face as I remembered the days of Monopoly.

I had a family that I was friends with in Indianapolis that I grew up with and even 
though I lived in Saint Louis it seemed as if I spent just as much time at their house. These trips were crucial in my development because the days of Monopoly brought out my social side.

If you could have seen me before a game of Monpoly at their house and during the game you would have been quite confused. Just as I have said about the need for direction, playing the game gave me direction. My level of comfort would go up by an unmeasurable percentage and I began to talk.

I would talk before the game, but it was forced and labored, but during the game I was as slick as a used car salesman. Trading was my specialty and I am sure I would have been guilty of "badgering the witness" had this been a courtroom.

Perhaps my trading and negotiating skills were harsh, and I lived by the motto of,  "It's not personal, it's business". Harsh or not, playing the many games I had allowed me to talk. I felt comfortable in a social setting.

When we moved to Saint Louis in 1993 I was in shock. I could easily have conversations about auto racing in Indianapolis (where we moved from) but I was in shock that, in Saint Louis, people generally only care about the sport if the home team wears red and the sport is played with a bat. My conversational tactics that worked in Indianapolis had no chance of working here in Saint Louis so I became rather quiet in school. That being so I looked forward to my trips to Indianapolis from months in advance.

I've tried to count how many games we played during all those years and it has to be in the hundreds. We had so many games; one that sticks out in my mind was where we started with five players, got done to two, and had a perfect storm that neither he nor I could win. We had to break out the $1,000 and $5,000 bills from "The Game of Life" because we had so much cash on hand and the $500's were out. The game ended in a tie as we said we had developed the "perfect economy".

While it may be the games I remember, it is the end result of where I am still experiencing. Had we not gone back to Indianapolis as many times as I did I don't know where I would be right now. It may have been intermittent but it allowed me to know that I was able to talk, I was able to socialize.

I was always kidded that I was only happy if I won, and that wasn't the case. I had to play hard to stay in the game, but winning wasn't about having Boardwalk, or Baltic (my personal favorite) or my obsession with buying all the $1's from the bank but rather winning was simply playing the game. I could practice talking, negotiating, and during a game the need to understand initial social cues is eliminated and since I get caught up with that aspect of life having that aspect be not in play was valuable.

It's been forever since I played a game of Monopoly in person. I played one game online last year and naturally won, but it wasn't the same. Monopoly is a social game and playing online just isn't the same.

It's been forever though and I don't know if I will ever experience those days of Monopoly again. As sad as this makes me it isn't a total loss. Everyday I live I still have the positive effects of all those games and for that I am so grateful

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

One Seed

Two days ago I drove up to Indianapolis from Saint Louis. When a person drives on this route in late September, the fields to the left and right are vibrant with vegetation, but in mid April they were barren fields simply full of potential. What a difference a little (or a lot) of work will make and that got me thinking.

I've talked so much about the potential a person on the autism spectrum can have. However, it probably isn't just going to happen, and it needs to work very much like the land out here. If it weren't for the decades, maybe even a century's worth of work of the land whether in Illinois or anywhere there's a field, there's a good chance, well, a 100% chance that the land would not be hospitable for much of anything. It's taken irrigation, proper ranching, and a constant eye to make sure the land and livestock are right.

So why am I going on a talk about ranching and land? Potential. Someone, at some point in time, saw potential out here and now this community has a sustainable agriculture economy and if the agriculture goes away this town very well may go away. How does this relate to anything? It all goes back to potential.

The school year is nearing the final days and much like the field I saw, there are many, many people full of potential. I think back to my teachers I had that saw thew potential and planted amazing seeds. It's fitting I'm working at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today because my second-grade teacher, on one of the last days of school, opened my eyes to the world by simply asking me, "Aaron, where is Silverstone?" That one question opened my eyes to travel, the world, and laid the framework for me chasing my dreams.

I've been ending my presentation for years saying, "we live in a society where everyone wants everything to be perfect right now. When it comes to autism we can't look at it that way and rather we need to look at it like planting seeds; you've got to give it time to grow." That being so teachers have a great chance to plant the seeds to instill that potential that could be hidden underneath. 

Not being a farmer or rancher, I won't really know what I'm seeing through the growing season because some fields will be filled with cattle and grasslands perfect for food, then others will be crops that I can't name, and then there will be some fields that are seemingly empty. What's there? What's going on? From my vantage point it's empty, worthless land, but to the right farmer or rancher they may see the hidden potential in the land. That's the difference between knowing and not knowing and I can only hope that in this upcoming school year more and more teachers master the art of seeing potential because what may seem like an empty field may someday turn into the most beautiful of creations that all started with the planting of just one seed. For the teachers out there that are exhausted, try and remember this. You may plant the most amazing seeds and never see the harvest in return. My teachers will never know the heights I have reached or that the race I talked about every single day at recess, the Indianapolis 500, is now an event I've worked from the flag stand. It can be exhausting, stressful, and demoralizing at times but I can assure you that you are making a difference, and that you may never know the beauty that comes from your work, but I can attest I thank my teachers every single day. Thank you!

Monday, April 18, 2022

When Travel Goes Bad


            Not too long ago I blogged about the joy of travel. However, it doesn’t always go well and in 2018 I had an event that stuck with me for a long time thereafter.

            Ten days prior to this event I had gone to Tokyo on about 10 hours notice. There was an incredible last minute deal using miles and I had no presentations to places to be in that time frame and I found a great hotel at $39 a night so it was a deal far too good to pass up. It was a memorable trip and I’ve awaited the chance to go to Tokyo again, but the waning moments in Japan were highly intense and staggeringly confusing.

            I didn’t want to go home. Being in Tokyo is such a relief for me. There’s a feeling of normality I have there that I haven’t felt elsewhere. As I said, I can’t wait to go back, but this story picks up at the airport as I’m about to head home.

            As usual for me, I got to the airport with more than enough time to spare. A couple hours went by, and it was time to board the plane. My zone was called, my boarding pass was scanned, and as I entered the jet bridge there was a security guy that said my name and waved me to the side. I had never witnessed such a thing and I was on the receiving end of whatever this was. I feared many things, perhaps something bad had occurred and this man was going to be the bearer of bad news. Perhaps someone with my name was a wanted criminal and they thought I was a different Aaron Likens. Through all of my fears I knew that nothing good would come from having my name said directly.

            The security guard spoke no English so when he gave commands in Japanese I had to give signals that I spoke no Japanese. He proceeded to point at my shoes and to take them off. I did so and he inspected them and had me put the shoes back on. Ten seconds later, after ten awkward seconds standing there, he had me take the shoes off again. I did so, and this time he wanted the socks off as well. This was a bit difficult as I had no seat. My carry-on bag was on a small table but that had not been inspected yet.

            It became a dance taking the shoes off and putting them back on. In my fears of what was to happen after being stopped, I must admit dancing with the shoes wasn’t a thought I had. However, my anxiety rose each time I got a leer of disapproval from the passengers boarding. They didn’t know my story and heck; I didn’t know my story at this point in time but they gawked at me as if I were suspected of trying to do something highly illegal to this plane.

            I’ll estimate the dance went on for 10 minutes. I could still hear the announcements at the gate and it was getting to the end of the boarding process. Then, another security man joined the one making me dance and he did speak English. Right away he wanted to see my shoes. Okay, at this point in time, autism spectrum or not, I’m sure anyone would be getting extremely anxious aa to what was going on. This went from minor annoyance to an event that could have severe ramifications. These two really thought something was up with my shoes and I was worried as to what this would be.

            The minutes went by, I heard the “last call for flight…” and I wasn’t on the plane yet. I have to be early and now I was late with no more gawkers walking by. It was just the two security men and me. At this point they now pointed at my bag and asked me to open it. Inside I had an Xbox and a laptop. Xbox? Okay, I’m a bad tourist as I traveled halfway around the world to enjoy some hours of Xbox as well. Much like the shoe dance, the contents came out, went back in, out, in out, and back in again.

            My heartrate was now to the max. Was I even going to fly home tonight, or was I going to get to see the inside of a jail cell in Tokyo for reasons I didn’t even know? The gate door was now closed. I tried to look at my cell phone, but they told me not to do that. I looked through the gate door and saw it was two minutes past the scheduled departure time. At any moment the plane door was going to close, I was sure of it, and I would be left behind with my two pals in the jet bridge.

            It wasn’t too much longer, but there was one last Xbox out of the bag request and this time the English-speaking security guard inspected it himself, made a radio call, and said I was good to go. I quickly put it back in my backpack and gave a shrugged shoulder sign and he said, “We have never seen an Xbox before. We know the Sony PlayStation.”

            With the reasoning behind the slight bit of being detained I headed towards the plane. My pulse was through the roof, and I could feel each beat in my mouth. My adrenaline was rocketing through my body, and I realized I was at a limit I had never been before. Speaking didn’t seem possible and while I maintained my composure in the inspection process I was now on the verge of hyperventilating. It didn’t get any easier when I got on the plane.

            The check of the clock showed 15 minutes past the scheduled departure time. Each pair of eyes on the plane leered at me as the sole reason they were late. All the overhead bins were closed and as I walked to my seat a flight attendant walked up. I pointed upward with a shrugged arms gesture because I couldn’t ask for help and he said, “Sir, if you had been on the plane earlier you wouldn’t have had this problem.” The confusion and rage I had felt in the jet bridge was now gushing outward. I contained it because I’m not going to do anything to make a scene, but to do that I become overly stoic and emotionless. The flight attendant saw this and asked, “Sir, where are you seated?” When I pointed to the seat right beside me, which wasn’t a first-class seat, but it wasn’t the main cabin, he suddenly became helpful and found a place and I took my seat.

            I wish I could say the story ended there, but when I took my seat, I continued to look forward without emotion. I focused on my breathing and tried to purge the adrenaline from my system. It had been a traumatic 50 or so minutes and I just wanted the plane to get in the air and have this night be forgotten. However, my mannerisms or facial expression, or lack thereof, raised the suspicion of one flight attendant who came over and asked, “Sir, are you okay?” I took a moment of thought on this and was a bit overly reflective as I tried to think of an answer. Was I okay? What was the criteria for being okay? Would being wanted for being team Xbox and not PlayStation be considered, okay? I thought of all the sarcastic answers I could think of but again, speech wasn’t happening, and the flight attendant left.

            “Oh, please let this episode end!” was what I thought as what appeared to be a goon squad approached. It was every flight attendant on the plane now crowded around where I was seated. The team lead led out, “Sir, can you fly?” Big mistake with that line because I was at the point of taking everything literally. While I do have 10 logged hours behind the stick of a single engine plane known as a Katana, I would not be anywhere near cockpit ready for an A350. My delay brough about a repeat from the first question and my facial expression was one of befuddlement. Then, finally, the flight attendant was direct and said, “Sir! You are acting strange! You were late on the plane and are you capable of being on this plane?”

            The words hurt. I… was acting strange? I thought that anyone would be in this situation. The person seated beside me was late getting onto the plane as well being one of the last on, and they saw what was going on with me and they chimed in. Perhaps this is a common event with security leaving Tokyo but having someone help out just a bit was a huge relief after this hour of confusion. Because of this I was able to nod at the question and the flight attendants departed and we made our way out onto the runway and into the black of night headed home.

            There are so many takeaways from this story. I’ve wondered since this event as to how much autism training flight attendants get. I know they have a stressful job and in the past two years it seems there’s a new story every week about unruly passengers. However, what skills are taught when a situation like mine arises? I also know security in airports and safety in the air is paramount. If the security process would’ve led with the direct issue at hand with the desire to inspect the Xbox, would that have lessened the ordeal? Maybe they also wanted to see how I reacted to certain commands? Perhaps.

            At the end of this story, I know this has not left me with a bad taste towards travel. I look forward to when I go back to Tokyo and I will not hesitate and jumping at a last minute offer if I have the chance. There is a risk in travel with social snafus happening, but they could happen anywhere. My love of exploring is much greater than the fear of another mystery stop in the jet bridge and I hope you too, the reader, when given the chance will take any chance you can get to step out.


























Friday, April 15, 2022

The Runaway Mind

I flew to Rapid City yesterday from Saint Louis, and the trip was one of the worst days of travel I ever had. It would've been three hours faster to drive rather than fly. As bad of an experience that was, there was a worse event caused by my own brain.

We were nearing the final 20 minutes and my dad sent a text asking if we could, "talk later". This within itself isn't anything, but when a person like myself has a brain that thinks of every possible outcome, a text like that was the stuff of nightmares.

I've had this my entire life, and my brain is way too fast. In the general public, when I hear someone say, "excuse me" I begin fearing every possible reason why they did. Are they about to rob me? Did I offend them? It's a sudden and drastic thought process that is much like a runaway train going downhill without brakes.

What did my dad want to talk about? We talk daily but he never sent a text with that tone. Something surely was wrong. My girlfriend tried to dismiss my fears but I knew I was right. Was it something medical? It had to be. That's all it could be, I concluded.

I saw the airport from the right side of the plane, and the ground couldn't come soon enough. When we landed, and deplaned, I'd be able to call my dad and I would get whatever horrible news was awaiting me on the other side of the phone.

We landed, the boarding doors took forever, and when I was in the jet-bridge I made the call and held my breath. My dad answered and I said, "what's wrong?" to which my dad was perplexed. There was nothing wrong. Everything was fine, and as so many times in my life the runaway mind ran away for no reason.

This is frustrating for me. I would love to not have my brain jump to cataclysmic results instantly. This isn't a process of escalation, but a sudden image of the worst case. There's no conscious thought on this, it's immediate and no matter how many times I'm proven wrong, my brain will still try and prepare for the worst. If you know someone like this do know it isn't a calculated assessment, but rather an immediate image of fear that is difficult to push aside and realize that things are 99.9% going to be okay. 

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Joy of Travel


I’ve loved to travel since as far back as I can remember. I was enamored with airports at age three and there were many, many nights my dad drive us out to the Indianapolis airport to watch the planes takeoff and land. It was fun to imagine all the places the people were going to and coming back from. It didn’t have to be travel via the air as I also loved long car trips. What was the allure of this? Why did I crave the open road or dream about new places? Even at a young age I realized travel was a great equalizer and it as also freeing from routine.

Being on the autism spectrum, I crave routine and schedules even though it can be taxing at times. There was a great sense of anxiety at school when the schedule was teetering on being off. If a class were to take place at 10:10 it best not be 10:12 and we still be on the previous subject. This was a painful experience, but with travel the routine that was is no more.

One of the most vital statements, I believe, the world needs to know about the autism spectrum is that we operate under a system of, “whatever happens first always has to happen.” There’s safety in schedules and the predictable. However, can there actually be a world where this happens 100%? Wouldn’t it be nice if there was? There isn’t, though, and I realize this and will try and do whatever I can to preserve what was with the previous schedule and the events I’m expecting to occur.

When traveling, unless visiting the exact same spot, there’s no “first” to go by. Everything is new and I’m not chained by experiences of the past. I’ve been blessed to have traveled so much in my life and I attribute a considerable amount of my growth to that.

Routines are awesome, but if you go back to the person I was when writing Finding Kansas, I would have much preferred staying in a state of stagnation because it was predictable and with that came a great sense of safety.

One of the difficult things I have, when explaining this, is to describe what is easy and what is extremely difficult for me. In December 2018, I used some miles to go to Tokyo and I needed a ride to the airport to call my dad and I asked him if he could give me a ride. He mentioned that he knew I had no races and no presentations, so he was a bit perplexed. Oh, I forgot to tell you I booked this for a flight that left just 10 hours later.

That spontaneous trip was a thrill, and maybe for yourself you got a bit of anxiety thinking of the prospect of traveling internationally without a plan. It may be anxiety inducing for you, it was a freeing experience for myself. Reading this, you may think that all things regarding travel are easy. They are not. This is where the difficulties in understanding the peaks and valleys come in because I may have had no fear doing the trip but using the phone to talk to the airline? That’s impossible for me. The little things can be impossible which can lead to confusion because others may think that, since the grand is easy, the little things must be too. This isn’t the case.

All that is why I crave the open road, or the long flight. To be free of the routine I have daily is freeing. Environment is tied to routine so I can’t simply do this in my own home. I’ve tried, but location is part of the routine and even at a young age I knew this. I remember one of the family trips to Florida growing up, telling my dad that, for me, it was the trip to Florida I looked forward to the most because everyone on the road shared the same thing; being in a car traveling somewhere not knowing any other person’s story, and them in turn not knowing ours. While I didn’t understand my classmates in school in terms of story or emotions, I did understand that, while traveling, we all shared in the journey of the open road.






Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Party After

The checkered flags had flown, the stands were empty, and the sun began to set in the west. All that was left was for us to pick up all of our stuff around the track which is no easy task. We had made great time and I was seated on a golf cart as my coworker drove. There were many places to work at around the 1.8-mile track and we had a full cart of our stuff and were making our way to the transporter. That's when it happened.

We took the pit lane entrance and as we were driving down pit lane there was a large contingent of security staff who looked like they were celebrating. The group was dancing and singing and as we neared the party ended. My coworker, who appears to have zero social anxiety, stopped next to the group and said, "Don't stop on my account! Keep the party going!" to which it felt like a flash mob of dancers appeared and the party was on once more.

My coworker got out of the cart and joined in. Myself? I sat there like a stone gargoyle having no idea what was taking place. Why was there dancing? Why was there singing? I was utterly confused.

It lasted no more than 20 seconds and the party was over. The dancing ceased, the sound of singing was replaced by the seagulls that had an all you can eat buffet under the stands, and the work at hand once again took priority. However, as we drove away from the party crew, I was left feeling a bit alone.

I've never understood random social events like this. I'm extremely reserved and a sudden case of the dances is something I've never had. Seeing this and being so close to it is a reminder of the autism spectrum in me. Sure, dancing and singing with strangers on a vacant pit lane is something a lot of people wouldn't partake in, but I doubt I could have any other reaction except the feeling of extreme discomfort and a high level of confusion.

Confusion? Yes, I use this word because I don't understand how other people do this. How do others just let go and not worry about their posture and where their body is in the space that they're in. For myself, if feels as if there are chains with rusted locks that can't be broken that holds me back from enjoying that type of shared experience.

There have been many events in my life like that pit road flash mob that I'm left wondering what it must be like to be so free. As I often say, though, that if I were able to do that, I wouldn't be myself and I do enjoy being who I am. While that may be true, I still am often left with a bewilderment of how other people live so freely, and I wonder if, maybe next time, I'll be invited to the party after next time. I'm sure there's an invitation, but it's on me to accept it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

In The Zone

A theme I've had in the past week about writing is that if I have to try to write it's no good and this is true. One of the first readers of my work a decade ago said I wrote in the "stream of consciousness" way which I'm not really sure what that means because I prefer to call it "the zone"

Being "in the zone" is an all too used sports cliché but it holds true to what I do. I know this from the days I spent racing karts and being an instructor at a racing school. If you didn't know I was phenomenal behind the wheel but I did lack in one aspect and that was giving feedback to what the car or kart was doing. There was one day, a test day on my last day as a student at the Derek Daly Academy, in which the student is finally allowed to alter the setup. The chief instructor knew I was fast, I was one of the fastest students ever, so they didn't do minor changes because I requested freeing the car up so I could rotate it more in the corners. They did so and asked if I liked the changes and I said, "you made the changes" as they actually had gone the opposite way and made the car tighter. I apologize if you're unfamiliar with racing terminology; so what that means is the car would have a tendency to understeer as if you were to try and turn on a snowy road and the car continues straight. I didn't feel this change and my lap times remained constant with what they had done prior. The next session I was assured the setup would go back to a neutral feeling but as I peeled out of the pits the instructor turned to my dad and said, "there's no way Aaron is keeping that car on the track. We've made it as loose as possible so we'll see if he can adapt to that!"

The fifteen minute session went by and I turned lap after lap and came in and I was puzzled at the shocked look on my dad's and instructor's faces and I thought I had done something seriously wrong. Jeff, the instructor, leaned into the cockpit and asked, "notice anything wrong with the car?" to which I responded, "not really, I was .2 quicker that time." to which he turned around and shook his head.

In the debrief after it all I was asked if I could feel the difference in the handling and I said, "I think I did but I don't think when I drive I just do and I change my style that I need to drive by just knowing without knowing. I can't really explain it." This is an excellent skill to have as a driver and maybe had my racing career had panned out I'd have developed that sense of being able to think while driving instead of just being blistering fast (last time I brag on myself, I promise... I think) but what I think I surely was experiencing behind the wheel was this zone thing and this is the same thing, the exact same thing I experience when writing and now presenting.

However, where this is most prominent, is in writing as, I have mentioned a time or two, if I have to think about the words I'm writing and put the mental effort to think of where I want my words to lead I am lost. I don't know if this has any connection with Asperger's at all and if it does I think that whatever it is simply is amplified a bit, but there is something here. Now, whether I simply had the ability to do this or if racing in my youth trained my brain to be able to ascertain this zone is probably up for debate, but myself, I'm going to say this zone very much exists, cliché or not, and that racing helped me train to be a writer. Odd connection, really, isn't it? Even more so when my words as I realized I wanted my mission in life to raise awareness and understanding of the autism spectrum was, "there's a new race now" and as it would seem I've never quit racing.

Friday, April 8, 2022

An Incredible Journey

Two years ago, my work as an advocate and voice was silenced by the pandemic. Public speaking to students, law enforcement, and parents wasn't happening and with injuries I suffered at Daytona in 2020 my depression was great enough that I didn't push or look into doing virtual presentations. Sure, I had a few, but compared to the tens of thousands of people I presented to in the years prior I was not doing the work I was put on this Earth to do. Flash forward to the past seven days.

A week ago, ran a story about me that reached all across the globe. It was an honor, but the point I want to convey is this; the past two years I thought I wasn't doing my mission, but in a way I really was. The reach that the story, along with yesterday's Good Day LA interview, felt like it was more than anything other single thing I had done in my entire career so even though my presentations had ceased, I was working towards a goal I didn't know I was headed towards.

There's something I find beautiful in all this. I had an extreme level of self-loathing two years ago because raising understanding and helping families was what I was meant to do on this Earth. The pain I experienced after my diagnosis was worth it if I utilized it as it motivated me so others, perhaps, would not go through what I did.

The interviewer yesterday asked a question along the origins of my autism spectrum diagnosis story, and it led me to say something along the lines of this, "I wish I could go back and tell my 2005 self that it's going to be okay. I was working towards something I didn't understand at the time, and it will work out." I needed to tell myself that again after the interview as I thought about the past week. Following my passion and becoming one of the starters for the NTT INDYCAR Series did allow me, in time, to have a voice once more. When presentations become commonplace for me again, I'm going to talk about this in that following a job or career where passion lies is vital. Passion is something that can't be faked, and others will notice. A person may not be in the ideal place at this point in time, but like me, everyone could be working towards a goal they may not know their headed towards and the end result may be greater than ever imagined.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

The Crosswalk of Fear

I wish you could've seen me. I had met my match and didn't know what to do. I looked to my right at the light hoping for direction, but there was none. The giant X in front of me on the ground was confusing and, in that moment, I realized that everything I knew was wrong.

You're probably thinking that, with my proclamation that everything I knew was wrong, that there was some major, life-altering event taking place. Well, I wish I could say that was the case. However, I hadn't met my match on a brand-new airport procedure or new laws involving cars. Nope, instead I had met my match by a crosswalk.

"A crosswalk?" I'm sure you just asked that in a dry, sarcastic voice, but let me explain because if you came across it you too would be in the X of fear and confusion. If you were taught in kindergarten how to do something and your entire life the way you learned was the way it played out every time you'd be ill-prepared to handle something new. That was the situation as I stared at the giant X that was made in the intersection. It made zero sense.

I was frozen and instantly put into a positional warfare which meant that I didn't know how my body should be in the space it was in. This might be the only time a non-social situation put me into this. Typically it's because I don't know how my arms should be, or how my face should look, or what type of smile I should have around a person or in a group. The more common wordage of this is, "those on the autism spectrum may appear uncomfortable in their own skin" and let me tell you, this intersection will make you uncomfortable.

The stoplight had gone red to green for three cycles and I still didn't know which way to go. I looked to my left to the extremely confusing sign. It stated "diagonal crossing OK" which I was hung up on. This wasn't clear because I wondered, "does this mean it's okay or is it required?" There's a big difference, furthermore it said to only cross on the signal, but which way to cross. I haven't been this confused since the first time I came across a diverging diamond intersection. If you've come across one of those, you'll remember the first time it felt wrong to drive on what should've been the wrong side of the road.

It was now teetering on the brink of being ridiculous. I had to make it on foot to a Walgreens and get back so I could make it to where the track is being assembled in Long Beach. I had to go, and on the fourth cycle I decided to go against everything in my body that said that walking diagonally across an intersection is wrong, but I went across and after surviving to the other side I felt the same sensation one might have at winning a game of Monopoly if it were played solo against one's self.

You may come across one of these someday and when you do you'll have a leg up because you'll be partially prepared. However, should you come across this, and you experience the same trepidation, and confusion that I did I think it prudent to tell you this. Those feelings, for me, are felt in most social situations, but unlike crosswalks that have been the same forever, social situations move like the weather patterns on earth; just when you think you've figured it out it could snow in May. While there is no true way for those not on the autism spectrum to truly know what it feels like, I think this immensely small situation may give you an insight if you can imagine coming across every social situation no matter how many times you've done it, it will always feel like the first time approaching the crosswalk of fear. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Travel... Finally!

Before the pandemic, I traveled alone all across the country and world. I was in California at least once a month for presentations or a race, along with races and presentations scattered across the country. This experience has been greatly missed but I got to experience it for about seven hours yesterday. 

It was an early morning as the alarm went off at 3:30. I had just worked four days on track for SKUSA in New Orleans and was dreading the day ahead. It was going to be a long flight to Los Angeles and then some empty hours until I could check into my hotel. I did have a rental car booked for the day, so I wasn't going to be stranded, but other than that, expectations weren't all that high.

The sunrise not quite over the horizon was amazing at takeoff, and four hours later the plane touched down at LAX. Deplaning, I got a sense of what was missing for two years. I've traveled all around with INDYCAR, but I'm always in a group, so there was a sense of, well, like it was 2019 again and I was getting off a plane to give a presentation. There were no presentations, but the day started to resemble what I used to know.

Getting to the rental car place, which I think there's few things more depressing about travel than the rental car counter, wasn't bad and I was out the gate quickly. I had five hours to kill and no place I needed to be on that day, and it felt awesome. No worries about time-certain schedules. No itinerary, just my rented Toyota and the open road. The road that was filled with LA traffic. The road that I had missed.

I drove up to the north side of town, found a place to get breakfast and savored the meal in no rush. I continued driving and then my phone decided it wanted to go from 33% battery to 0 instantly. While I've been out here dozens of times, I don't know my 105 from the 405 to 705 to the PCH. 

The road continued on, but I exited. While I had no place to be I did have a rental car to return, and I had no idea how to get to the Long Beach Airport to drop off my car. I parked and plugged in my phone and waited. And waited. And waited some more. I got out a crossword puzzle book and looked out the windshield and I simply enjoyed the moment of drama. This was awesome! 

One of the things I love about travel is that you can be put into a situation that you've got to improvise. Okay, so maybe your idea of fun travel and mine are different, but the "What do I do now?" question when a problem arises is amazing.

Eventually my phone turned on, and when it did all the apps locked up, so it took a while longer, but then I headed south, found my mandatory In n Out stop, and got to the airport to return my car. It was the shortest rental I've ever had, but it was the most rejuvenating. The fun wasn't done as my phone wouldn't connect to Uber so I had to find the taxi line, got into a taxi, and made it to my hotel.

The travel bug has bit, and it has bitten hard. I forgot just how much confidence travel gives me. I also worried if I'd ever experience that again, but after enjoying it I can't wait until the next time I've got hours to kill in a city I don't really know. 


Monday, April 4, 2022

Featured on

On Saturday, Indycar featured me on their website and it was such an honor. I never thought I'd see myself as the headline, but I'm grateful to Indycar for the nod on Autism Awareness Day and here is the story.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Someone Somewhere

There's someone, somewhere, right now that's going to be in a situation I, or perhaps you were in...

Today is the start of Autism Awareness Month and while I think we should look more at autism understanding than awareness, I do think that we do need to be aware of that someone, somewhere that may have their life changed today.

For all of us on, or affiliated with, the autism spectrum, we've all had our own journey to where we are right now and it's unfortunate that those that need to know about the contents of my blog, or have read Dr. Temple Grandin's books, or perhaps know how you've handled the ups and downs will have no idea that any exists.

There is a person out there, much like myself in 2003, that will hear the words, "Yeah, there's no doubt about it, this is for sure an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis..." It's been 19 years since I heard those words but what comes next is vital to that someone somewhere.

I got awful info. The internet lied in 2003. The first thing I read said that there was going to be no job, no friends, and no happiness. I was staring into an abyss of misery that day. I was that someone somewhere that needed to know the journeys of those before me. 

It's a scary place to be given a diagnosis that someone may have never heard of. What does it mean? What are the limitations? What will the future look like? There are people today doing the same search I did in 2003. There's still misinformation out there but there's also so much more. There are so many voices that proudly state who they are, and that growth is always possible.

I have so much hope for the future. As the understanding of autism grows in society, so too will the chances of that someone somewhere right this second having a better introduction to their diagnosis. This isn't the deepest of blog posts to commemorate the start of April, but if you're hear and reading this you were that someone somewhere a while ago. You already have "awareness" and want as much understanding as possible. What I want you to be aware of this month is that, with 1 in 44 children being on the autism spectrum, there are many parents, siblings, and those that are going to be diagnosed that may simply need your story, your wisdom, or a bit of advice for some information about what autism could mean. As I said, we already are aware of the challenges, the strengths, the quirks, and all the beauty that may come with being on the autism spectrum, but for that someone somewhere, this very second as you read this, their world has just been turned upside down. They're scared as they don't really know what a spectrum of autism is. Perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps from a year from now you may come across this someone somewhere and I hope you stay aware enough to realize that just one hopeful word, or pointing them in the right direction for encouragement, or literature, and most of letting them know that diagnosis or not, they, or their child, is still who they were before the doctor gave the diagnosis. There may be a diagnosis but that doesn't mean the diagnosis has to define them. Of course, you already know this, but when the time may come, I hope, I really do, that you can help that someone somewhere to avoid the abyss I found myself in back in 2003.