Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The freeze

Multiple site post here. First, my fiancĂ© took an amazing video of the finish of the Indianapolis 500. You can view that here.

If you watched it to the end, you’ll see a long freeze at the end. I wish everyone that helped me become who I am could’ve experienced the joy, reflection, and gratitude I experienced in that moment. 

I’ll admit, I’m not the best at expressing emotions via spoken word. During the frantic race, all emotions were nonexistent as my focus was on the race at hand, and what a race it was! Wow!! Anyway, as the last car crossed the line to finish the race, and the job was over, emotions consumed me. 

Tears flowed almost instantly. I tried to comprehend the moment, but couldn’t. It still makes no sense that I achieved my life dream; to flag the Indianapolis 500. There are some dreams that are obtainable, and others that are such a long shot that if they come true no one would really believe that it did. That’s what this is, was, will forever be, and when realizing that, the emotions are raw.

I just finished writing a book that will certainly thank many of those people that got me there. Teachers, coworkers, and friends played a gigantic role. This is my story though. I’m sure many of you have done something monumental for a person on the autism spectrum and don’t even know it. Short term goals, growth, or perhaps a lifelong dream may have been made possible by a simple, or complex action. Whatever the case, when you see that freeze, realize that, even though it may not be spoken, there will be a moment where a person reflects back, and wishes they could thank you directly. 

Friday, May 26, 2023

The 500, My Dad, Always Has Been, Always Will Be

The sun is coming up over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's carb day, and if you're unfamiliar with what  that is, it is the final practice before Sunday's 107th running of the Indianapolis 500. I'll be in the flag stand, displaying the flags for the race. My dream job. My 30th Indy 500 in person, and fourth working. There will be a big piece of my heart missing here though.

photo by Walter Kuhn
Two years ago, the crowd went into a frenzy as Helio Castroneves took the lead for the final time. The crowd was louder than the cars! The frenzied crowd wanted to see Helio join the four-time winners club of the 500, and as he flashed across the line under my checkered flags, he did. As the rest of the field crossed, and the last running car took the checkered, I looked over to the stands on the other side of the track where my dad was watching. He could see me a whole lot better than I could see him, but he was there, like he always has been.

I got a call during the GP week two weeks ago. It was my dad. He's been fighting a health issue and the doctor advised that he shouldn't come to the race. He was heartbroken, so was I. My earliest memories are of racing and dad. The two are inseparable. I can remember attending practice in 1987 and the cars were way too loud for my ears at the time as I wasn't prepared for the unfiltered sounds of those engines. He asked if I wanted to go home, but as bad as the sounds were, my love of the colors, smells, and speed were stronger than my sensory issues. The next time at the track, my dad made sure I had better ear protection. 

Racing and my dad... it's been a lifelong thing. I started racing karts in 1995, and we spent many weekends over the years at the track. He tried his best to get me into something bigger than karts, and we came close so many times, but driving wasn't in my calling. That being said, while I couldn't see my dad across the track, I could certainly feel the smile resonating from that section of the grandstand.

A misconception about those on the autism spectrum is that we lack empathy. This isn't the case, it's just that we have an extremely difficult time putting emotions into words. Perhaps this is why I'm writing this. I've known he won't be here on race day and... I'm okay with it. I didn't think I would be, but working practice, and then qualifying last weekend, I haven't felt him missing.

Each and every time I go under the tunnel into these most hallowed ground of the Speedway, I remember all the times he took me here after school. I remember coming to every day of the rain soaked 1997 running. I remember leaving my souvenirs in turn three after the extremely hot 2005 race. We were almost to 16th St when I remembered so that made for an extra-long walk. And, I'll never forget that he was there, in 2021, for my first double checkered of the 500.

My heart breaks for him, but I know he'll be watching with the rest of the world on television. This race is steeped in tradition, and this is just my story. Families have been coming to this race for generations and I wonder if others have this same sense of connection on race day. Perhaps race day morning will be different for me. I know I'll be a teary-eyed mess during Taps, and Back Home Again in Indiana, but come the command to start engines, I'll be game ready and focused. I'll look across the track and I'm sure there will be a little hole, but missing an event doesn't delete the memories of all the years prior. The feeling of a shared experience, the countless hours of travel, the early mornings at the track with my dad. No matter how or when, in my heart at the track he has always been with me, and always will be.


Thursday, May 25, 2023

Engagement photos


Perhaps one of the more unique places you’ll ever see engagement photos. Seems fitting considering I proposed on a volcano. 

Monday, May 22, 2023

Always be your best

This was odd for me, but shows that we can be an advocate by just doing our best because we never know who will take notice. https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTREfpW2Q/?t=1

Friday, May 19, 2023

It’s Time to Qualify!

Perhaps my two favorite days in the flag stand begin tomorrow. It’s qualifying for the 107th Indianapolis 500! 

It’s difficult to describe to you just what this job means to me. If it looks like I’m enjoying myself as I display the flags, I am. It’s not just a level of enjoyment though, it is an all-consuming burning passion of my soul. 

Employment can be difficult for those with Asperger’s and it’s vital for us to try and find a job in our Kansas. I know it’s easy for me to say that now as I’ve got my dream job, but I’ve been saying this long before I landed my gig as a flagger for the NTT INDYCAR Series. 

If you tune into Peacock or NBC this weekend during the hours of qualifying, you might get a glimpse of me doing what I always wanted to do. I still can’t believe I have this honor, and I assure you I’ll be enjoying every second. 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Why I Wrote Finding Kansas

I now live by the motto, "Understanding is the foundation for hope." It wasn't always that way though...

Being diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at the age of 20 was confusing. I mean, I had this diagnosis but didn't know what it meant and sadly, neither did my doctor. I was left to find out what it meant by myself so I did an internet search and the first thing I read, the very first thing I read said, "People with Asperger Syndrome will NEVER have a job, NEVER have friends and NEVER be happy." 

After reading those lines it was as if my life ended. I instantly believed those words and tuned all other information about Asperger Syndrome out. I didn't believe there was hope and I slowly retreated from the world. I don't think anyone knew just how depressed I was because I never talked about my emotions.

I stayed this way for almost 15 months. I was bitter, hopeless, and angry at everything. Sometimes my dad would say, "I understand." but how could he? Then, 15 months after being diagnosed, I had had enough. I don't know what fuse blew in my mind, but I had to tell my dad who I was and why I was. Of course, I couldn't speak it, but I went to my computer and I started to write it. 

There's a line in my book that says, "All I want is for someone to understand and maybe, just maybe, I will be free." That was the motivation for me to write and I never intended on it being a book that got published. All I wanted was for one person to understand who I was. I also didn't intend on creating a new vocabulary to describe the ways of the autism spectrum as I just wanted to describe to my dad in the best way possible the reasons why I do what I do.

My book is a journey through my thoughts and is at times sad, at times funny, at times hopeful, and most times emotional. As I was writing, I heard a speaker say that, "People on the autism spectrum don't have emotions," and that too was a big motivator for me to continue to write because I knew that I had never heard a bigger lie in my life. We have emotions, maybe more emotions than someone that is "normal," but we have the hardest of times processing it and then expressing it. I was like that my entire life until I discovered writing.

As I said, when I was writing Finding Kansas I never thought it would be something that would bring hope and understanding. From where I am now, I believe that we can have the highest autism awareness level possible and that still won't be enough because without understanding how can society know what it is? Without understanding how can parents make the right choices? This was the sole reason why I wrote. Nobody understood me and I couldn't speak what I thought or what I needed so I wrote to be understood and words can't express what it means to be when I hear from parents that, "through your book I now understand my son."

Finding Kansas available at Amazon.com and other book sellers.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Even When You're Right, You Can Be Wrong

One of the hardest and most complex things I've learned has been the fact that there are times that, even when one is right, they can be wrong. 

In 2008 I worked my first true national race and I was rather nervous. I had been used to flagging and race directing local or regional events and something of this scope was new. Also, I was just the flagger so the decision-making responsibility did not weigh on my shoulders. I still had a bit of wanting that control and on the final day there was an incident that stopped the race on lap 3.

Usually, the rule is if the race is stopped on lap one it is a complete restart. After lap one it'll be a single file restart with the line up being how they were running before the race was stopped. I was lingering around the race director and parents, crew members, and drivers were wanting an answer on how the race would be restarted and the race director was just being screamed at by all parties and eventually he made the choice to complete restart. But this was wrong, wasn't it? One complete lap had been completed, in fact a couple were therefore how could we go back to the beginning? After all who were screaming at him left I asked, "Complete restart, how does that work?" and the response I got was a bunch of words that aren't fit for my blog.

What had happened? I was right, right? The way I understood the rule we were making a mistake, but when I questioned the person whose decision goes I became just another one of those people who were complaining about everything. I was right, but it wasn't my call to make. Later on, the race director apologized for snapping at me, but I understood how he got so riled up because I was there to back him up and not to question his decision.

That was a defining moment in my life. That may sound like I'm trivializing many other events in my life, but after that day I realized that there are times that being right is irrelevant. At races now when a decision is made, I will put in my opinion if I know I am right, but I won't push it because once the director has made a decision that's the way it is. I'd also say this was one of the hardest lessons I've ever learned because I used to be under the code of, "right is right regardless of anything else" meaning that I would argue with any person at any time if I knew I was right, and they were wrong. Thankfully, I learned that one can be right and wrong at the same time and I still will push my belief on a call, but if I am denied I don't take offense to it, I don't go off on a tantrum, and I will carry out the call that was made because in the end I am the messenger with the flags, not the one who makes the calls.

Monday, May 15, 2023

The Rock Revisited

It’s the day before practice begins for the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 and early this morning I had to run to the north side of Indy. I grew up there, so I thought it a good time to make my annual visit to the flagging rock. 

If you didn’t know, this was my first flag stand. After school, I’d stand on that rock and wait in anticipation for each car that came by and practice my flag waving abilities by waving a the priceless flag which was given to me by then starter of the Indianapolis 500, Duane Sweeney. The only other people that had a flag like that were winners of the 500, and there I was, standing on a rock, letting it fly in the air for Dodge’s, Pontiacs, Mercury’s, bicycles, runners, or whatever crossed my imaginary finish line. 

While this was a great way for me to practice my style , it was much more critical that I was doing something I enjoyed. For those on myself on the autism spectrum, motivation can be a struggle, and the daily grind of school was much like a ten-ton anvil being dropped on a balloon. Sadness, depression, and confusion reigned supreme for me on a daily basis, and one of the few things that I enjoyed and made sense to me was standing on that rock. 

One of the attributes for people on the spectrum is a, “sustained unusual repetitive action.” Perhaps most would consider a ten-year old standing on a rock flagging cars like they were winning the grandest of races, but for myself I loved the movement of the flag in the air, the sensory sensation of the snap of the fabric, the movement of my muscles, and the timing of the action with the car coming across the imaginary line. Yes, it may sound a bit unusual, but it rejuvenated me after attempting the near impossible day of surviving the choppy social waters of school. 

Each person may have his or her own repetitive action like I did and it may not be easy to understand the why as to why that action is happening, or perhaps how something so unusual could bring so much joy. I know, back when I was on that rock, I couldn’t put into words that the motions I did on the rock paid benefits the next day in school. Of course, I’d much rather have been on that rock than attempting to learn when and when not to reverse numbers in fractions, but the day was made just a bit more possible with the joy that was brought on the rock. 

Of course, my story isn’t complete without you knowing that I went from that flag stand to the stand I dreamed of as I made to the NTT INDYCAR Series and the Indianapolis 500. Not every person’s unusual action will lead to a dream job, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen either. As I said, motivation can be hard for us on the spectrum to find, and I found mine, kept with it in life, and to this day the movement of the flags, the sensation in my muscles, and timing of the cars underneath, now going 230mph at Indy, being the same amount of joy as it did when I was just ten-years old dreaming of the day of flagging at a real track. 

Friday, May 12, 2023

Book complete!

Writing a book is a daunting task. From concept, to first chapter ideas, to sitting down and putting thought to paper, it is truly daunting. Along the way it is so easy to lose sight of the destination and focus on the long path that it’s going to take. Well, my next book is complete!

I don’t know when it’ll get published as it’ll have to get edited, then shopped, but the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a book is second to none. 

This is great news for the blog as I won’t be over-encompassed with thoughts on the book. I look forward to future blogs, and I can’t wait until you can read this book!

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

To Feel Alone


In writing this series I’ve challenged myself to have each chapter link to the previous. This was the novelty I needed to motivate myself into getting back into the writing mode and there was a key thing in the previous chapter that the student told me and that was that he felt, “totally alone.” 

            There’s two sides to feeling alone as I, myself, do a good percentage of the time enjoy being alone. Most of everything I’ve written was written between the hours of midnight and 5AM because that increased my chance of having no outside interference to my work or thoughts. However, there would be other times that I yearned for interaction. No, not just interaction but a connection on the personal level and without understanding we can quickly become cut off from those around us and the harder we try to make connections the more cut off we become.

            Before I got my diagnosis I did see psychologists or counselors and it was hard for me to ever buy-in to the whole process but the #1 thing that would set me off, or rather turn me away from exposing anything remotely resembling an actual emotion, was the line of, “I know how you feel.” Really, you know how I feel? You know what it feels like to know that no one has the same thoughts as you? You know what it is like to be mocked for missing the most obvious of social cues? You know what it is like to be in room full of people and feel as if you’re on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? You know what it is like to have been misunderstood forever and now, all of a sudden, someone understands? Ha! 

            The problem with saying you know how I feel is that, and others on the spectrum can be like this, we’ve come to learn that no one thinks like us. Maybe this is decreasing with the increased awareness, but when I didn’t have a diagnosis what else was I to think? And on top of all that, since talking about emotions was difficult, I wouldn’t have been able to get out how I actually felt although I would be able to tell the psychologist that they were wrong but I would not be able to describe as to what was the actual feeling thus furthering my lack of buying-in to the process.

            Another aspect of feeling alone, and this is on the negative side which I hope to remember to write in more detail later on the bliss that can be experienced being alone, is that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The “fail set” can set in which is this, “if I’ve failed once, and failed again, this means I will always fail” which means that getting the person to even try may be difficult and if a situation arises where someone is trying to, say, be a friend we may be very guarded or closed off because we know the outcome of loneliness is always the same. 

            The nights I felt most alone I can describe like this. And mind you, I’m not writing this to be depressing, or to make you, if you’re a parent, depressed about your child, but rather I feel if you know how a person may feel it’ll give you a better understanding. Anyway, after my diagnosis and the hopelessness I felt I felt as if I lived in this small bubble where life was frozen. I could look out of my bubble and witness people conversing. I saw it all the time at the bowling alley, or at stores, and what I saw was what I wanted at almost any cost except the cost of me trying because I knew I’d fail if I tired. Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, or a vicious cycle, call it what you will but the longer it went on the more bitter I became. When I would talk to my dad on how I felt I’d rarely bring up this point of feeling isolated because it was the deepest of feelings and one I didn’t want to recognize. I tried to subdue my yearnings of acceptance and friendship, but even thought I would deny it (many times) they were there. 

            Time went on and as each month passed me by I felt the chasm between myself and the world growing. This eventually was my motivation to write which I know not everyone is going to become a writer and not everyone is going to find a way to express what they are feeling, but do know we may have this deep yearning for contact, or kinship, or just a simple moment of understanding. We often times feel alone in a crowded room which, despite even if you have felt this before, we may become agitated if you tell us, “I know how you feel” because, to feel alone the way we do, we are watching the world from this bubble and as we watch it appears so easy. Other people make the art of conversation so darn easy and for us it isn’t. I think I can compare it to this; look up a video on the Internet of a concerto master performing a great work of music; they make it look easy, right? For that master it probably is and for us on the spectrum, witnessing normal encounters that others have, be it a common greeting or two strangers talking about the weather, that’s what witnessing normal conversations are like. And from that despair in watching others make the impossible, like having an open ended conversation with a stranger about random, irrelevant topics, seem like second nature it creates the deep and wide chasm that creates this feeling of being alone.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

A Dumb Injury

Writing/typing isn’t the easiest of things right now. Over the weekend, flagging at Barber Motorsports Park, I came up short in one of my flagging motions and, with my hand going full speed, I hit the railing of the stand. It’s a mistake I’m sure I won’t ever do again, but for now my thumb is making typing rather slow. This stinks because I was making amazing headway on my next book and I’m a writing day or two away from completing it. Hopefully the pain subsides soon, but for today, this is all I’ve got.