There’s an old proverb that says “all is fair in love and war”. Now I never stepped on a battlefield during wartime, fired a gun at another or been shot at so I cannot speak to the latter, but the former I have known as truth. Blinded by the glare of love, I have done things in my life that have defied any sort of logic and derailed me from the intended course I’d been following. Not for one minute have I ever regretted any of it. One such case was my first West Coast tour.
A year prior to embarking on said tour, I had met a beautiful girl at my best friend’s wedding. Her name was Cindy and we hit it off right away. At the time she was enrolled in a graduate program at the University of California, San Francisco. We talked for most of the night and when the wedding was over we promised to keep in touch. So off we went, back to our respected sides of the country, her in the West and me in the East.
In the months that followed Cindy and I’s friendship grew. Thoughts of her vacated my mind frequently. We spoke often and in a conversation one night I mentioned that I had really wanted to tour the West Coast. Being the caring and clever person that she was, Cindy proposed a plan where I would fly over during her spring break and she would drive me up the coast, stopping at shows along the way. Overcome with excitement, I feverishly booked myself a week long stretch of shows ending in Washington State.
A few months later I arrived out west with my guitar and a duffle bag nervously awaiting the journey that lay ahead. Cindy met me at the airport with her tiny two-seater Mazda Miata convertible and thus our trek north began. Because the trunk was too small to house my guitar, we were forced to strap it on top of the trunk with bungee cords. Amazingly it survived the entire trip.
As we traveled along State Route 1 up the Pacific coastline, I was in awe of the alien landscape. The winding road curled along the cliffs while the waters of the great Pacific crashed on the shoreline below. The weather was nearly perfect. Hardly ever was there a cloud in the sky to block the sun that beamed on the faces of the two wide-eyed travelers whose hearts were beating out of their chest. For that week we lived in our own little fantasy world. At night we would find little dingy roadside motels to stay in and cheap food to eat. Oh, how I wanted to freeze time and relive those days over and over again for eternity.
We passed through places I had only read about in books. As we approached Monterey we entered the Salinas Valley where Steinbeck had written the greatest novels of our country and told the American story with more guts and truth than anyone ever had. Periodically the highway would jet inland and we’d pass through barren fields once worked by migrant farmers, now seared from recent wildfires. If you looked closely you could see the budding plant life, rearing its head through the ash to begin the cycle over again. Further north the colossal trees of the Redwood Forest towered over us like gentle giants granting passage to what lay ahead. And then there was the sheer beauty of the Oregon Coast where massive stumps of trees cut down lifetimes ago now protruded from the water like mighty serpents petrified in mid breech.
One of the greatest gifts of tour is seeing old friends who had moved to different parts of the country. Such was the case in Takoma, Washington where I got to hang with my childhood friend, Pat. He had moved out west a few years earlier and when he heard I was playing nearby, made the two hour trip with a few friends. Growing up, Pat was like a brother to me. We played in our first band together, discovered punk rock together, sipped our first beer together and were more or less inseparable during our most formidable years. There in Takoma, Pat and I sat at a table by a window at the venue catching up and talking about old times. What a special treat it was to see my good friend. Unfortunately, that would be the last time I would ever see him alive.
I’ve relived that last visit with Pat in my head many times since his passing; the nuances of his speech, his signature chugging laugh, the way his face lit up when he smiled. A few months before his passing he’d invited me to come to New Hampshire where he was living at the time. I told him I’d have to take a raincheck as I was recording an album and really couldn’t get away. The last thing he asked me was for some new band recommendations to listen to, something we’ve shared with each other for most our lives. What I wouldn’t give to drop everything there and then and go visit my old friend, play records and talk about life one last time. Together we’d broken down in cars on the side of highways, got our asses kicked by men much bigger than us, moshed to some amazing bands at VFW halls and learned about sucking the marrow out of life. Great friends are hard to come by and Pat was one of the best.
When we had reached our furthest point north, Cindy and I drove back to her campus in San Francisco. Though she still had nearly two years left in her program, we fell madly in love and were inseparable for a good stretch of time to follow. Whenever Cindy had breaks from school she would hop on a plane and come meet me on tour and we would enter back into our fantasy world, like two fugitives on the run, totally disconnected from the outside world. But like so often is the case, life took Cindy and I in two different directions and the relationship eventually ended.
Memories are a strange thing. We’d like to think that when the dust settles and the significant events and people in our lives are no longer available to us, we are rest assured that the memories will be there for us to hold always. However, not even memories can combat the deterioration of time. Memories are a shared experience, and when the people that we shared them with are no longer around then the memories begin to chip away. When the ones we shared them with are no longer living in this world then a valuable part of the memory dies. The greatest gifts in life are not for owning. As much as we want to grab them and keep them for ourselves, they can never be ours. All we can do is be thankful that the gods have blessed us with the opportunity to experience them for the time that we did. Be thankful that in all of the chaos of atoms whirling around the universe, somehow, someway, these people were brought into our lives. I’m not a very mystical person but I like to think that their introduction into our lives is not merely a random event in a chaotic universe. I believe that these people are bestowed upon us in order to usher us along to the next part of our journey. They are our trusty travel companions and shape our soul until at last we are ready and must move on to the next chapter of life. And perhaps in another lifetime we will be visited once again by our travel companions and although their faces and names will be unknown, our souls will remember and we shall feel a divine connection. The more time I spend on this earth the more I am approaching an understanding of love; an understanding I am quite certain I will never entirely grasp.