I don’t know how many miles I have driven in an automobile over my working years. Starting back in 1978 up until 2011, a period of thirty three years, I have worked “out of town” from where I lived in good ol’ Trion, Georgia. I have worked and commuted to Rome, Calhoun, Dalton, LaFayette, and all over Northwest Georgia for five years during the 1980’s as a Sales Rep for a Medical/First Aid company. I have logged a lot of miles in a vehicle. I may try and figure out just how many one of these days when I have a lot more time to work it out.
During the 80’s while I was driving, I listened to WSB radio out of Atlanta most of the time. At least I had it on anyway. I laughed and cried at Ludlow Porch many days. I cussed Neal Boortz and agree with him…about 75-25…you can figure out in which direction. A lot of times I just rode with the radio turned off. I sang the lead to most of the Broadway musical records I had listened to so often as a kid. My “Impossible Dream” rendition from the “Man of La Mancha” is still ringing loudly somewhere in the hills near Jasper, Georgia. I went through every song I every knew and then started writing my own. Back then there was no way to record anything while you were driving, so if I got a good melody in my head I would have to hum it all day long until I got home to my guitar and cassette tape recorder. I know I lost a lot of hit songs due to the fact that I had to get out of the car and work in between bouts of creativity.
I preached many a great sermon back in those days…quoting from every bible verse I had every learned…which was a lot of them. None of them ever saw print or the light of day, but some of them were pretty good.
I taught classes on history and anthropology while I was driving. I had conversations with myself about the meaning of life. I never solved that one.
I imagined myself winning the World series with a last minute home run, or dropping a putt on the 18th of the Masters to win the tournament.
But many times I would just ride along looking at the mountain scenery and think. Just think about things.
I guess I was just a poor man’s Walter Mitty, really.
I once won an all expense paid trip to Athens Greece for Paula and I on a radio contest based on one of the many “question and answer” games that were going around in the early 80’s. I heard the question while I was driving down the road: “Who was Ms. Hungary in 1957” We had just played the game the night before, and I knew the answer was Zsa-Zsa Gabor, so I hurriedly pulled into a service station which had a pay phone (yes there were pay phones back then) and called into WSB. I got through, was the correct caller, and they put my name in the “pot” for the grand prize drawing the next week. As I was driving home the day of the drawing, I had WSB tuned in and when they actually called my name, I just about ran off the road. I had been kidding Paula about where we should go when we won (it was one of ten cities in Europe) so when I pulled into ANOTHER pay phone and called her, she thought I was being goofy. It took a lot of convincing, but she finally believed me. We chose Greece. It was our second choice to Vienna, Austria…but we couldn’t go there because the only time we had to go was in October, and everything there was booked up for Octoberfest. We had a great time in Greece though…
And so I drove on……through the 80’s and into the 90’s. Paula and I got a job at the same place, and for almost ten years we rode out and back together to Calhoun. It was a great era. We took our lunch breaks at the same hour and ate out in Calhoun at all the fast food joints there, many multiple times. We worked with a lot of cool, friendly and iconic people…and a few asses. We got paid decent, and the benefits were super.
We had an hour’s drive home in the afternoons to “cool down” from the day’s work. We did a lot of talking, and it kept us close. Thinking back now, the place we were working was a great place.
They were bought out by a bigger company in 1999, and I had to start commuting to a different place again. So, there was 12 more years of driving out and back. First to Rome again….then to Dalton, Lafayette and Calhoun in that order.
The last couple of years, the drives were late at night, ending at home after midnight most of the time. Mom and Dad were sick in those two years…dying. I remember the night before Daddy died I was at work in Calhoun and he called me. He was bad sick. I couldn’t get off early because the third shift supervisor wouldn’t come in to let me go. He was an ass. When I did get off, I drove the back road from Calhoun to LaFayette at 80 to 90 miles an hour. Dad was resting by then, and weak. He knew I was tired, so he told me to go home and rest. I stayed there until nearly 2 a.m., but then I relented and went home. My Dad was a tough old man. Many times in his life he had stared death down and come through it still breathing, all the way from World War II, through two heart attacks, heart bypass surgery, botched appendix surgery which left an infection which would have killed many people. So many times he had toughed it out. But I got a call about 7 a.m. the next morning from my Dad. He told me his chest was hurting and to come quickly. Then the phone fell out of his hand and hit the floor.
Of all the miles I had driven over the years, all the many thousands of mundane miles, the near miss days, the three coffee afternoons to stay awake…out of all of these miles, the twelve miles from my house to Lafayette were the longest I had ever driven. I went fast…but even then, I didn’t make it in time. My tough old man had left sometime while I was in transit. The top of his head was still warm when I touched him and said goodbye.
No matter how many times I go back over that drive…the hurried one the night before and the more hurried one the next morning, I can find no solace in anything I did. Guilt haunts and haunts, and keeps on haunting some more. People can tell you that you couldn’t have done anything more, but you’ll never believe them. I never do and never will.
Shoulda, coulda and woulda….you put them in the furnace just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendego…and they just won’t burn….they’ll always come out right back at ya’.
I drove more miles after that. Seven more month’s worth of thirty miles over and thirty miles back, after midnight. My Mom faded away early in December that same year, but we were all at least there and surrounding her at the last. The anxiety, and the years of bad eating, and no exercise, and bad genetics caught up with me near Christmas of 2010 and my years of rolling up mileage came to a halt for a while. They cut me from Adam’s apple to belly button and put four new vessels in while a machine was pumping my blood. At one point in the first few days, I hurt so badly I thought about just letting go. But…my youngest son was in the room with me right then, and I didn’t want him to be a witness to it, so I decided I’d live.
I have made a come back over the past few years though. With Eli and Rue to care for, I moved back into the main stream of life a few steps at a time. Those babies and Paula brought me through the next year after my heart surgery, although my memory is sure spotty. They helped keep me busy and moving. It was a really good thing.
Now, for the last year or so, I’ve been riding up to Woodstation and picking up baby Evie and bringing her back down. I started to listen to NPR again, and many times playing tunes that Evie likes. And I think. I think a lot. Sort of like Forrest Gump did when he was running. But, unlike Forrest, I’ve started walking and doing a lot of thinking, instead of running. While I’m walking…and driving I notice the beauty around me.
The sunrises and sunsets, the animals, the kids and grandchildren, all sorts of buildings, and beaches, clouds and rocks….pretty much everything.
If you’ve seen my posts, you have seen the pictures! I take them to freeze that one moment in time for eternity. For others to see the things I consider beautiful and worthwhile. I write of things I hope will inspire, and I am trying oh so hard to steer clear of turmoil….although nobody’s perfect.
I’ve made a physical, and mostly emotional return to living.
I appreciate my life. Do you appreciate yours?
I know one day my walking….and driving days will be over, and while I have some regrets, the joys I have, and have had far outweigh the sorrows. The people I share my life with, who I call my family, give me purpose and love.
I am one of the lucky ones. Very lucky.
Call me blessed if you wish….I don’t care.