A Road Trip Well Worth Taken

851 miles. 70 hours, 30 minutes. A road trip. An old man.

One of the better road trips in the last half dozen years or so, especially for an old man.

Friday, an hour before daybreak. The rain was abating, creating a sense of eerie beauty in the lights of the freeways early morning traffic, which was slowly beginning to build headed west as i headed east out of town.

i settled in for the drive. It would be five-and-a half hours with one stop, a bit shy of 400 miles. i have taken this road many, many times. Sometimes when on the way to see someone east of San Diego proper, i have felt the urge to just keep on going east, heading home on the long, lonesome highway. But i have reigned it in. On this trip, the reigning will have to occur in the middle of southern Arizona.

It would be a while before i got out of the county. One of the biggest differences to me between back home, back East actually, and the Southwest corner is the size of the counties. Back home, Wilson County is 580 square miles and roughly 44 miles across. San Diego County is  4,526 square miles and approximately 90 miles across.  To get to Arizona, i cross two counties, San Diego and Imperial, slightly over 100 miles.

Interstate 8 rises slowly from the Pacific out of the Southwest Corner. The mist on the mountains is eerie. Triple blades of one wine vane for creating electricity looms above me on the mountain to the left, a white silhouette in the gray smoky mist. Symbolic? i don’t know but beautiful, unique somehow making a statement to the old man in the car. The rain had cleared and dawn was singing as i hit Pine Valley at the peak of the drive through the Laguna Mountains, now mostly tribal lands of the Kumeyaay, and the vista of Imperial Valley shone through pink hue of the clouds of morning. “Red at night, sailor’s delight; red in the morning, sailors take warning” was not applicable in this desert. The sun had hit its full chariot ride swinging low over Mexico as i descended the S-curves into the wind vane farms. Alabaster tri-wings of vanes rotate in the beams of sunrise. Later, the next source of power, solar panels, possibly a thousand acres of them in their geometric solidarity, gleaming in their collection of power. Then the valley gave way to its old habits, fields and fields and fields of agriculture people with those who make a living with their backs and hands and amongst them cattle upon cattle pens and i wondering what will jump to next to save our planets and how those cows don’t have a good future either way for as my friend Marty Linville explained to one tree-hugger who was begging to save the cows by not eating beef or buying dairy products or leather goods that they will be killing all the cows for there are not any farmers or ranchers around who are going to keep those cows as pets.

And past El Centro into the sand dunes, lovely folds of the shifting whispering sand as Johnny Cash intoned, and they are mysterious as they loom with shadows from their shifting but sullied by more RV’s and sand dunes one can count, motorized adventure (?). Hmm. Not for me, no, not for me but obviously a big deal and a big investment for some folks who come out here in unbearable heat and rock and roll around in the buggies to collect sand on their skin to only be washed off with a trickle shower of an RV. Not knocking it if you like it, just don’t understand why you don’t just admire the beauty of a true sand desert or find your adventure trekking across the dunes.

And then Yuma, another destination i don’t quite understand.  A metropolis in the desert. Where oh where is the water i beg. And then there is Arizona, the southern part, a different kind of desert. Agriculture, the big kind, so far as the eye can see. Hamlets, small homes in the desert, damn near self sufficient except for the water, i think. Shacks, out buildings. No shade. Fields and fields and then there’s Gila Bend (a collection of stories for me later). And i wonder again why those folks in those wagons pulled by mules had the thought of stopping here and settling. On and on through cacti and mesa, and rising rocks, all magnificent in their strange, lonesome way.

i pull in the expansive, winding, sign confusing maze of the Phoenix airport. Trip out over. i see Jim Hicks outside in Terminal Four.

The adventure begins. We find a place for lunch, which is pretty close to just right. Small table outside and Jim and i catch up. Alan is picked up at the maze later and we do about six loops trying to get out of the maze. Make it. And then on to our purpose for being in this megalopolis in such a strange place for one. Snowbirds they call the folks who thrive here in the winter to escape the meat of winter back home up north. We are going to a ballgame, not one but three.

Vanderbilt is here to play baseball. Our glue…or least a reason to be glued. Alan and i started this tradition a decade ago. The ‘Dores baseball team swings out west each February or March to play in a more hospitable clime than Nashville this time of year. We have had as many as eight join the tradition, Jim and Cy Fraser being the most frequent additions to the weekend. This year the Commodores, rated the tops, win two of three against some of the best programs in the country, losing to TCU on Sunday to avoid the streak.

These gatherings are all special to me. This one was one of the best. Three old men go back a half-century and go on just as they used to except the jokes are about old men now. We laugh, we enjoy the games. We are us.

Then it’s over. Jim heads out early, headed back east. Alan and i close it out and i drop him off in the maze. Head home, the strange beauty of the strange land traversed once more. i arrive home early afternoon Monday and nap for a half hour. i sleep that night for nine, an almost never event. i nap for two today. i think i’m back to normal except rejuvenated. Old.

This post was going to be an in-depth spiel about the trio and our antics. In writing, it took another turn. Then, i decided i would keep most of the experience to the three of us among us. Old men, young boys together having fun like it ain’t ever going to stop. In the middle of the last game Sunday, the other guy who was supposed to join us but couldn’t due to family matters called me. i told Cy we were at the game and i was critiquing Alan’s score keeping. Cy laughed and said, “You guys sound like you are old men.” He’s right, of course. He is too.

But i don’t think there are a bunch of old men who keep doing crazy things quite the way we do. Perhaps i’m wrong. Don’t care. This is us.

i have mixed emotions about fraternities in college. As with damn near every organization, there are good things and there are bad things. But at this advanced stage of my life, Kappa Sigma fraternity brought me together with a bunch of guys who i know almost as well as myself, and no life-changing events, no political or religious beliefs keep us from being brothers. My Vanderbilt time cannot be considered successful. The end was one of the most devastating moments in my life, almost as bad as losing my daughter through a divorce. But Vanderbilt gave me these friends for life, these brothers.

Thanks, Alan and Jim for the weekend. Thanks, Vanderbilt Commodores for the impetus to make it happen. And thanks to all my other brothers for being you. AEKDB.

Go ‘Dores.


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