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.

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