When I was 17 I went on a road trip with my friend John. It was the sort of epic journey where the hero goes on a quest with a sidekick, faces challenges and dangers and pursues his one, true love. In the end he returns home wiser with some treasure or some honour bestowed on him by the gods.
I knew about John before I knew John. He was the guy who had moved into the house by the bridge beside the river that missed a week of school filling sandbags and building a wall around his home while the river rose to new heights. I’m not sure why it never occurred to me to stop and help fill bags but sadly it didn’t. The flood gave him and his family an indoor swimming pool in their basement: a new feature they really weren’t happy about. It also made him a legend. He was that guy, from that family, who lived in that house.
We got to know each other through common interests and a common friend I’ve called, ‘Mr. Magico’. Our relationship with ‘Mr. Magico’ bonded us the way groups of people involved in natural disasters are cemented together by their common experience. We were also art nerds, drama nerds and thought improvisation was the highest form of life.
John was one of the funniest people I had and have ever met. And I’m picky about funny.
He always had a hilarious story, comic insight or joke to pull. I remember him telling me to go up to someone at a party and just drop into conversation that they should go up and ask John about his sister’s carrots because she was really into gardening and he was really proud of her. Eventually the poor, unsuspecting soul would bump into him and politely bring up the bit about the carrots and the garden. John would look at them, stricken, with real tears coming to his eyes and say, “Very funny! My sister’s been a vegetable ever since her accident…” and begin to cry. Yes, really. And though he really had a sister, she was healthy and the rest was just an academy award level performance.
The soundtrack for that particular road trip was Styx, REO and most of all Billy Joel. We loaded up in John’s used FBI (yes, THAT FBI) Ford, equipped with a cassette player (a huge step up from the 8 track craze) that could skip ahead to the next blank spot in a tape so you could jump the songs you didn’t really want to hear. John drove and played drums on the steering wheel and I played keyboard across his dashboard and two young men headed west on a quest.
Our quest was the most important kind: we were on our way from Springfield, Illinois to Springfield, Missouri for John to connect with Toni, his one, true love.
To Be Continued…