Hello, London

25 12 2014
London's Heathrow Airport.

London’s Heathrow Airport.

I arrived in London with a lot to prove.

American. Southern Democrat with a love for nature and history and rebuilding confidence despite a poor showing during the midterm elections in the U.S. The President’s men and women cannot always win, so it seems.

David insisted I carry a bag that was too heavy for me. He describes it as a Toumi folding suit bag. I hauled it out of the airplane into Heathrow and onto the underground tube. It took up a lot space on the train and yet people did not complain despite tripping over it which, no doubt, inflicted a few cramps. I was so embarrassed. The shoulderpad was practicially deteriorating on my shirt, leaving black marks on a fine fabric. But I was glad to be here.

At the Russell Square station, I had one more uncomfortable surprise awaiting as the masses unloaded and filed toward the exit. There was a lift to the street and a lot of people waiting for just two cars. Tired of being in the herd, I opted instead to climb stairs. One hundred and seventy-five of them — Toumi folding suit bag, laptop briefcase and all. Signs warned to not attempt this unless one was in tip-top condition. I considered myself just that.

Russell Square Underground Tile.

Russell Square Underground Tile.

I beat the crowd upstairs. One of the taller, younger lads, who had opted to wait with his family and take the elevator instead, shot me a contemptuous glare as I proceeded in the opposite direction. From the station, I headed into the Bloomsbury district where JB was housed in a charming building on Gordon’s Square. Bloomsbury is an intellectual zone, full of thinkers, young people and sophisticates It was quite different from our previous rendezvous in Walthamstow.

London already has an air about it. It is cold but not damp. I arrive at the Gordon Square House to JB’s warm greeting. He immediately offers to help me with my luggage. I was relived as we climbed the stairs, another five flights, into the attic. JB has come a long way since our first meeting in Houston. And so have I.

We chat briefly before he must leave for the college and I need some rest. I slept little on the plane, watching two movies and eating everything they offered. Food, for the next two weeks, would not be a priority. I had trained and fed all summer for this moment.

JB was in great shape and just a few years my senior. I was glad to see him again. He is the only soul from Houston I have remained in contact with. That was such a dark year.

Things would go much better in England. This I was sure of.


RIP Old Friend

14 07 2011

My friend Jim is dead.

The crusty ol’ conservative engineer from Arkansas has left this world. There will not be a third road trip to Vegas and back. And his death, at this point, remains a mystery.

I received word a few weeks ago from a mutual friend that Jim had taken his own life. This was shocking news, but it seems Jim had run into some financial difficulties that he was not prepared to combat.

You see, Jim was a proud man. His wealth, gained through hard work and vast knowledge, was slipping away. At 74, he would not transition well into a life of poverty, so he did what he has always done — he took control of the situation and fired up his vintage 1960 Thunderbird one last time inside a closed garage.

I never got to say goodbye.

There has yet to be an obituary published in the local paper. Jim rarely spoke of any family. For the most part he was a loner, married to his work. And with work hard to come by these days, Jim decided to check out.

I’m frustrated that he could not ask for help and reminded of the biblical saying, “Pride cometh before the Fall.”

Our trips through the American Southwest were incredible and first class. Jim spared no expense and said he was taking me along for the ride because he knew that I would appreciate the experience.

He was right. I realize this now more than ever.

Maybe he knew something I didn’t. Maybe he knew time was running out and he wanted to share some wisdom with a young writer. Whatever the case, his passing leaves more questions that will probably never be answered.

One thing is for certain. The man who showed me the Grand Canyon for the first time is gone and there is a big hole left in my heart.

Goodbye Old Friend

Hats off in Monroe

9 12 2009

The bartender at the Holiday Inn in Monroe was a woman with hair so red thoughts of Reba McEntire came dancing into my head.

Jim ordered us a couple of beers as I walked around the empty, darkened lounge. Football jerseys of past stars were framed on the walls. Most of the names I did not recognize, with the exception of an old Packers jersey, once worn by the great Brett Favre — Southern Mississippi’s favorite son.

It was the night before Thanksgiving and the lounge was dead. Reba bemoaned the local economy, serving quick notice that there would be no “2-for-1” specials on her watch.

This was no happy hour.

Reba said drugs were ruining Monroe and gambling was sucking the life out of the city.

Depressing stuff.

Before sinking deeper into Monroe’s sorrows, we left the lounge and headed into town for dinner at a nice riverfront establishment. Built on the banks of the Ouachita River, Warehouse No. 1 Restaurant came highly recommended.

There was valet parking out front, but Jim opted to handle that himself.

Once inside, we were greeted by the instant smell of cedar.

“Let’s eat at the bar,” Jim said.

This would become another signature of the trip. Eating at a restaurant bar was a somewhat foreign concept to me, but as Jim pointed out, “you get the best service when you eat at the bar.”

I ordered a steak filet medium well and they burned it pretty good. My beverage of choice, sweet tea, seemed to irk Jim and the young bartender, a burly fellow from Pittsburgh.

“I gotta pace myself,” I told Jim. The days ahead would provide ample drinking opportunities and I had to wade into those waters carefully. After all, my college years were well behind me.

Jim, however, drank like a fish. After dinner, he insisted we return to the hotel bar for another round. Reba was still there, as peppy as ever.

Jim tried to lift her spirits by promoting Panama City Beach as a prosperous place to relocate. He praised the emerging Pier Park development and told Reba if she wanted to make some serious cash in the service industry, PCB’s Margaritaville was the way to go.

That night, I had to help Jim back to the room. One too many rounds had made his walk a little wobbly.

Back at the room, Jim had a surprise in store for me.

“You’ve never seen me without my hair, have you?,” he said.

Jim proceeded to tell me about how he began to lose his hair at a young age. This was a huge confession on his part and I nodded understandably at every word.

He took off his silver-colored wig and went to bed — with the TV on, as was his custom, and the volume cranked up.

I had known Jim for more than seven years and always knew that he wore a wig, but seeing him without it was a shock to my system.

It made me focus more on his eyes.

His vanity made him appear more real.

Just one day into our trip together, Jim had revealed so much.

I wondered if I was doing the same.