While driving home from taking care of my grand-kids I was almost rear-ended by a guy speeding down the freeway. The experience became the idea for this story.
Joel Anderson loved driving cars fast. You bet he did. So when his old man died and left him eleven thousand dollars, he took the money, went to the nearest Ford dealership and used it for a down payment on a brand new black Shelby Ford Mustang. He drove it out of the lot onto the freeway and hit the gas, making it to nearly a hundred miles an hour in eight seconds flat. He was in seventh heaven. For the next few months he took the Mustang out and raced it all over the seven county metro area. The most fun he had, however, was driving it on Interstate 494 during rush hour when he would weave in and out of traffic going as fast as he could go. At those times he felt he was invincible and he never even once came close to having a brush with the cops. All was right in Joel’s world until his luck ran out one summer afternoon a few months after he’d purchased his car. It was the day he narrowly missed the rear end of an Oldsmobile driven by some old guy.
Simon Nicohols was seventy nine years old and rapidly fading. His health was alright but it was just that he was losing that spark of life that he normally relied on to keep him going. He lived in a nice one bedroom apartment in the Lakeview Retirement Home in a west metro suburb. His wife passed away two years ago. They had been married for fifty five years and although he missed her terribly, he was trying to cope, just as he knew she would have wanted him to do. His three daughters all lived within an hour’s drive from him and he saw them often enough to feel like he was in touch with their lives. But it was his own frame of mind that he was concerned about.
Simon had been a salesman for Toro, a well known lawn mower company whose headquarters was located in the suburb of Bloomington, a half hour drive from where he now lived. He sold primarily to small, independently owned hardware stores in outstate Minnesota and the surrounding four state area. He’d spent most of the early years with the company on the road visiting his ever expanding customer base and making the occasional cold call. He had retired after forty three years of service when he was sixty five. He was well respected as an honest, truthful person and his customer base was tops in the company. So driving was a big part of his life. He had been provided with a company car, but, in addition to that, he had also purchased an brand new Oldsmobile 98 in 1980. It was dark brown with a white top and white leather interior and it was the pride of his life. He and Ann, his wife, had used it for family vacations, and, after the kids had left home, trips of their own. He still owned it.
If you were to ask him about his life, Simon would say this: ‘My life has been good. Ann and I were married for fifty five years and they were the best years of my life. We had three great kids, all girls and they are all happily married. I have ten grandchildren. My job was good. I enjoyed my customers and didn’t mind being on the road, traveling to maintain my accounts. Even though I was gone during the week, and even though I may have missed some of my kid’s soccer games and some school events, in the end, my job helped pay our bills. We weren’t rich, but we weren’t poor either. Like I said, my life had been good to me.’
Which was true. Simon had lived a good life. He was of a generation where hard work and sacrifice for the family was considered a benchmark for most men. And he was happy with that and so was Ann and so were his kids. If you asked Sara, his oldest daughter, what it was like having Simon for a father she would say: ‘He was a good dad. He was gone a lot when we were young, but when he was home he devoted as much of his time to us as he could. He taught us how to ice skate and took us sledding in the winter. He went to our ‘T’ ball games when we were young and softball and soccer games when we got older. He was a little old fashioned but he was fair. I always knew I could count on him for good advice even if I didn’t always follow it. I think he’s a great role model for my kids. I’ve seen lots worse fathers.’
But a few months ago Simon felt himself getting into what could only be described as a funk. At least that’s what his middle daughter Cathy would call it. Or maybe a mild depression. When she stopped by for a visit she commented, “Dad, you just don’t seem yourself lately. Is it something to do with Mom being gone? Do you miss her?”
“Of course I miss your mother,” Simon replied, somewhat testily, “I don’t see why it’s any concern of yours.”
Cathy wasn’t going to take any guff from him. “You don’t have to get mad, I’m just concerned. OK?”
Simon was not one to open up to any of his kids, let alone Cathy. But he wanted to let her know she didn’t have to worry. “Look, I’m sorry,” he said, softening his tone. “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. You just worry about Bob and those three kids of yours.”
Cathy knew from past experience when a discussion with her Dad was over. “Alright, alright,” She put her hands out in surrender. “I get what you’re saying. Just let me know if I can help, OK?”
Simon appreciated that his daughter cared, but what was going on with him couldn’t be fixed by one’s children. It was only something that he could do himself, and that’s what he was trying to do.
Lately he had taken to driving his Oldsmobile back to his old haunts. Back to the past if you will. He had been enjoying going out and revisiting old memories. It all started just after his conversation with Cathy when he’d decided to take a drive back the old neighborhood and the street where he and Ann had raised their family. He’d spent most of one day cleaning the Olds, vacuuming the interior extra clean and waxing the exterior to a brilliant, glossy shine. The next day he headed out almost as if drawn by some unconscious force. As he turned onto the street where they’d lived old memories came flooding back. He was unprepared for the onslaught of emotion that washed over him: holidays filled with laughter, a Christmas tree he and the girls had driven out to the country to cut down, a home filled with the aroma of fresh baked bread, chocolate chip cookies and apple pie, good times spent celebrating countless birthday parties for the kids. He saw a scene in his mind of the girls when they were young hunting for colorful Easter eggs. He saw a lifetime of memories he thought he’d forgotten. They flooded over him in a torrent. Wave upon wave. He was overwhelmed. He pulled over to the curb and turned off the engine. The house looked nearly the same as when he and Ann and the kids had lived there forty years ago. The shaded front yard still had hosta planted around the edge of the house. Hosta that he and Ann had planted the summer before their first daughter Sara was born. The house was an off-white stucco with dark green trim. It looked to still be in good shape. He started the car and pulled forward, looking into the back yard. The big maple tree was gone and the yard was nice and sunny. It looked like the family that now lived there had planted a vegetable garden. He smiled to himself, approving of the change.
He then drove down the street and crossed over to the next block where the park was. City parks were a god-send to young families like his and Ann’s. They provided a place for the kids to play on swing sets and slides and open space to play all kinds of games. The park brought back more wonderful memories, and, again, he parked the car and stopped, reliving the past and soaking in the good emotions that came with the scenes playing like a favorite old movie in his head.
He must have fallen asleep, because he was startled awake by a gentle tapping on the window his head was laying against. He shook himself awake and looked to his left. A policeman was standing next to his car, looking in. He motioned Simon to roll down the window which he did. “Are you OK, sir? Anything I can do for you?” He was very polite.
Simon smiled, “No. Thanks. I was just resting. I must have dozed off.”
“You’re sure?” He had a questioning, concerned look.
“Yes, officer. I used to live around here.” He made a motion behind him. “Back there between 46th and 47th. Just visiting the old neighborhood.”
The guy gave Simon a good looking over and said, “Yeah, it looks like a good place to raise a family.” Then he must have decided he was Ok and harmless enough. “Ok, then. You have a good day.” He gave Simon a smile.
Simon was relieved. “Thanks, officer. You too.”
The policeman was one of those guys who patrolled on a bicycle. He patted the roof of Simon’s car, got on his bike and pedaled away. Simon watched him ride down the street, already forgetting the encounter, already heading back in time. He was remembering a summer day when he and the girls had spent an entire Saturday afternoon at the park kite flying. He could hear the kid’s laughter and he could see them running after the bright yellow kite, chasing the long tail he’d fashioned out of an old sheet. He sat there smiling. People passing by might have thought he was maybe some sort of crazy old man except that they didn’t. He just looked too peaceful to be considered much of a threat, too calm and unassuming. After a while Simon shook himself out of his revelry and began the drive home, thinking that he was starting to feel better about himself. Better about life. Better, anyway, than he had felt in a long time. So he decided to keep searching out those old memories, those old haunts of his. There might be something to them. Something worth experiencing.
The next week he drove to where he’d gone to high school. He had seen on the news some years back that it had been torn down and replaced by a ten story apartment building. Time marches on, he’d thought to himself when he’d first seen the story. There wasn’t much you could do about that. But he drove to the location anyway and parked across the street and, like when he had gone back to the old neighborhood, just being by the site of his old high school brought back a flood of memories. Good memories. Memories of him playing basketball and being a forward on a team that nearly made it to the state tournament his senior year. Memories of being on the track team and lettering in the high jump. Memories of his first girl friend, Margaret Loftgren, and memories of nights spent parking down at a secluded spot near one of the city’s lakes. Memories of teaches he’d liked and classes he’d taken. All those memories helped to fuel the fire inside of him that had somehow been smoldering and had almost gone out. But now some embers were sparking. Like the friendly flames in a cozy fireplace, he was feeling touched by something from the past that was helping lighten his mood. He drove home even more energized than before. It was as if the memories of the life he’d lead were building him up somehow, reconstructing him, making him whole again and, in so doing, helping him to get over the funk that he had fallen into.
The following week he drove over to the University of Minnesota, parked his car and started walking around the campus. He’d forgotten how lovely it was among the century old buildings, so solid, so reassuring. How pretty Northrup mall was, outlined with tall stately maple trees, and how cool and inviting the grass looked, waiting for someone to plop down open a book and start reading, only to fall asleep in the peaceful, restful shade. With a sense of anticipation he walked to Walter Library, the place where he and Ann first met when they were students. He went inside the century old building taking a moment to breathe in the comforting aroma of old books that wafted over him. There was a sense of security here. It was almost like coming home again. He walked through the stacks to where he had literally bumped into Ann when they both rounded a corner at the same time nearly sixty years ago. He’d knocked her books from her arms and as he bent to help her pick them up their eyes met, and it was like they both knew right then and there that they would be together for the rest of their lives. They’d begun dating and were married in the summer two years later after they both had graduated. As he walked around the campus, he couldn’t believe how wonderful those old memories coming back to him felt. He had to sit down more than once, just to compose himself. It was here that his life really had begun. That chance meeting with Ann had set the course of his life in a direction that had given him the opportunity to marry, have a family and make something of himself. Later that afternoon as he drove home he felt himself again re-charged and energized by what the memories of those old days were doing to him. He was actually feeling happy again. It was like a magic wand had been waved over him and a glorious spell had been cast. Except this wasn’t magic, it was real. He felt himself smiling for the first time in a long, long time.
Less than a week later he was listening to the local radio station that on Sunday nights played big band era swing music from 10 pm to midnight. He loved Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald but, really, any swing era band would do. On this particular night Goodman’s band was playing ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ when the thought came to him that he should seek out the old Riverview Super club in Minneapolis just north of the city on the Mississippi River. He and Ann used to go there often when they were first married and continued to make time to go there even after the kids started being born. Because he traveled so much during those early years, he made it a point to take Ann out on the weekend as often as they could afford. The Riverview was where they could get an inexpensive meal and dance to whatever band happened to be playing on the stage that overlooked the big hardwood dance floor.
With a sense of excitement the next day he drove to where he remembered the supper club was located. He was disappointed to find it wasn’t there. Instead there rose into the sky a high rise luxury condominium complex called, appropriately, The Riverview. Across the street and down a half a block was a bar that looked reasonably safe. He parked the Olds, locked it, walked down the street and went inside. It was just after 2:00 in the afternoon and the bar wasn’t very crowded. There looked to be a manager seated near the front door, paging through the Star and Tribune Newspaper. Simon approached him,
“Excuse me, could I ask you a question?”
The guy appeared to be around sixty years old and seemed friendly enough.”Sure. What’s up?”
“Do you know anything about the Riverview Supper Club that used to be down the street?”
He set the paper aside. “They tore it down in the nineties. Part of improving the riverfront,” he said, using air-quotes around improving. “Damn shame if you ask me.” He looked quizzically at Simon. “Why?”
So Simon told the guy about how he and Ann used to go there on dates to have dinner and dance to the bands that passed through town back in the fifties and sixties. The guy was impressed and seemed to like talking about the old days. He took Simon to a booth, bought him a beer and they spent the next hour talking about what it was like for Simon and Ann to be in the supper club.
“It was a lot of fun for us,” Simon told Tim, who the guy had introduced himself as. “We were young and in love. Didn’t have much money. I worked hard all week and Ann worked hard raising the kids. Going to the Riverview was a good way to relax and have some fun together. Some great bands used to play here. We heard Benny Goodman a few times.”
“With Gene Krupa on drums, I’ll bet,” Tim said. Simon nodded, grinning. Tim smiled as well. “Too bad they had to tear it down. It was sort of a land mark around here.”
Simon looked off into the distance. “It was a great place. I’ll never forget it.”
“Sounds like you’ve got some great memories, though,” Tim said.
“More than some, young man,” Simon smiled. “A lot more.”
They talked awhile longer and then Simon had to leave. As he rose Tim clapped him on the shoulder and shook his hand. He’d had a good time talking to Simon. “You’re welcome here anytime, buddy. The beer’s always on us.”
Simon laughed and went out to his car again recharged with the power of these old memories that seemed to just make him feel better and better. He hummed parts of ‘Take the A Train’ by Duke Ellington all the way home.
The following week he placed a long distance phone call out to Brownsville, a medium sized town in the western part of the state near the South Dakota boarder. His friend Steve Vossen picked up on the third ring.
“Steven, old man, is that you?” Simon liked to give his friend a hard time. Steve was almost twenty years younger. “Can you still hear me? You aren’t getting deaf, are you?”
“Simon, you old so and so. What’s the good word?”
Simon and Steve had met back in the late fifties when Simon was first starting out. Steve’s dad had run ‘Vossen’s Hardware’ back then. After getting to know each other over the course of a few months, Simon had sold Steve’s father his first order of Toro lawnmowers. Steve now owned the business. They’d been friends for many years. If you asked Steve what he thought about Simon, this is what he’d say: ‘Simon’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Salt of the earth kind of guy. Dependable as the day is long, if you get my drift. He’s the god father to my second oldest son. I can’t think of anything negative about him except that I swear he cheats at cribbage. I’ve never caught him, by the way, but sometimes I just don’t get how he can win like he does. But don’t get me wrong, if that’s the only thing wrong with him, what the heck, that’s OK with me.’
The two friends had a long talk reminiscing about the old days, as well as getting caught up on what was going on now. Maintaining a local business in a rural town was challenging these days, but Steve was good at what he did. His hardware store was doing just fine. It made Simon proud of Steve and his family. After they had hung up Simon was feeling pretty good. Talking to Steve had reminded him of how much he had enjoyed his job, and especially how fond he was of the many friends he had made during all those years. Yep, and when he took a few minutes to think about all the places he’d visited over the past few months and all the good memories that had come back to him, he realized that life had been good back when he was young just starting out in his career, and it was good now even as he was getting older. The more he thought about the more he felt as if he had turned a corner. He felt rejuvenated. The dark mood he had been in was gone. He had an extra jump in his step. He felt alive.
He felt so good, in fact, that he decided the next day to go for a drive into Minneapolis, have lunch at the beautiful old mansion that housed the Swedish Institute and then go for a walk around one of the city’s lakes. It was a fine day to be out and about. He had Swedish meatballs for lunch which had been a favorite of Ann’s and he had them as a sort of homage to her. They were as tasty and as flavorful as he remembered them being. Afterward, he drove over to Lake of the Isles. The day was sunny and warm and his walk around the lake was both peaceful and invigorating. Gulls soared above him calling and reminding him of a wonderful vacation he and Ann had spent on Mackinac Island in Michigan. Today’s blue sky and white cumulus clouds seemed to reflect back the sunny mood he was in. As he walked other strollers coming toward him nodded a greeting and some even said Hi. In a while he was joining in, greeting people with a smile and a nod, echoing the spirit of the day. His senses were alive and he felt he had reconnected with his life. He felt he was back to being himself again.
He decided to stop at a nearby co-op on the way home for some fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs supplied by local farmers. When he was done shopping he got on the freeway just as rush hour was beginning and was cruising home comfortably in the middle of the three lanes. He was reliving in his mind how much better he was feeling about his life compared to a few months earlier when suddenly out of the blue some nut case in a fancy black Mustang swung across behind him changing lanes from left to right, missing his rear bumper by inches and nearly crashing into him. He almost had a heart attack. He clutched at his chest and then realized that he was OK, just rattled. What the hell was that guy trying to do? Simon thought to himself. He could have killed me. He could have killed anyone. Simon watched the car swiftly speeding away, weaving in and out of traffic. What a damn fool. Someone ought to do something. And as he drove along watching the guy speed into the distance, an idea occurred to him. The more he thought about it, the better he liked it. Maybe he was just the guy to do something about it.
Joel was laughing to himself. The near miss with the old car fired him up, getting his adrenalin really surging. He was flying down the freeway feeling as if he was one-with-the-road when his dash board started dinging. What the hell, he thought to himself and then he knew what the trouble was. The dinging was a warning. He was almost out of gas. He’d have to stop soon. Damn. He made a move into the right lane, positioning himself to get off at the next exit. It was a mile ahead. He’d get gas and get back in the game. A pit stop was how he thought of it. Just like the Indy 500. In and out. Should just take only a minute or two. Behind him Simon had eased the petal down on his Olds and was slowing gaining on Joel’s black Mustang.
Simon watched as the Mustang made a power turn off the freeway onto the exit ramp for Rockford Road. It was in the right hand lane, it’s turn signal light flashing. The whole car seemed to vibrate as the brake lights came on and the car screeched to a stop. What the heck, Simon wondered, watching the Mustang. What’s this guy up to? Never mind, he told himself. He had something he had to do. He wasn’t in the mood to just be an observer in life anymore. He was going to take some action.
Simon came off the freeway and maneuvered into the left lane. Cars were slowing down in front of him and he was able to judge the distance so that he came to a stop next to the Mustang and just a half car length behind it. The positioning was key because during the chase up the freeway, Simon had devised a plan. He reached over to his grocery bag and pulled out the carton of eggs and set it on the passenger’s seat. He opened it and took a grade A extra large in his hand and gently tossed it up and down. He liked the feel of it. He used the electric control on his arm rest to lower the passenger side window. When the window was down he was ready. He watched the traffic signal up ahead and when it turned green the cars in front of him started moving. He nudged his car up next to the Mustang and wondered for a brief moment if he should really go through with it. Then made his decision. What the hell, why not? He cocked his arm and let fly. The egg hit the passenger window of the Mustang with a resounding ‘splat’ spewing egg slime all over the shining black car. Simon laughed to himself and grabbed another egg. Just as the guy was opening his car door and standing up, Simon let fly again, the egg hitting the guy square in the chest. The cars in front of Simon had moved forward and he followed them to the intersection with Rockford Road where he turned left, crossed the bridge over the freeway, and took another left back down the entrance ramp and onto the freeway again. Just like that he was heading home, feeling a level of excitement he’d never felt before. He’d done it. He’d shown that guy what it was like to mess with someone like him, who, old man or not, still had a little life in him. Simon obeyed the speed limit all the way back to Lakeview, occasionally looking in the rearview mirror, wondering if the guy might be coming after him. But he didn’t have to worry. He’d never see that black Mustang again.
Joel freaked out when the first egg hit his window. Peering through the mess he could see that some old guy next to him had thrown it. Well, he’d show him who was boss. He’d teach that idiot a hard lesson. Joel was scrambling to get out of his car when another egg hit him square in the chest, egg gunk soaking into his shirt. He literally saw red he was so mad. He was making a move toward the car when the old guy sped away. Joel jumped back into his Mustang and put the car in gear revving the engine. But he had nowhere to go. The line of cars in front of him hadn’t moved. He had angrily swung the Mustang half way into the left lane when a car coming up from behind smashed into his front left wheel and fender, pushing his car into the car in front of him, crushing the front of the Mustang like a huge metal accordion. It was a rush hour traffic accident not uncommon for this time of day. Glass and car parts were strewn all over the place. It was a real mess. Joel wasn’t going anywhere soon.
Simon actually did see the Mustang one last time. It was on the 6:00 local evening news. No one had been seriously hurt in the accident, and it may not even have made the broadcast except for the fact that the police had been searching for the black Mustang for over a month. A reporter interviewed a spokesperson from the highway patrol. “Yeah, we’ve been looking for this guy, but never were able to catch him. Had him on surveillance cameras and everything but never got a good image of his license plate. We even had a nick-name for him, ‘The Scorpion’, ’cause of his car and everything.” Watching the guy from the highway patrol you could tell he was almost giddy. When the reporter asked about the egg throwing incident, he just laughed, “Well, for us, that’s not real important. The guys on the force actually thought it was kind of funny.” He smiled, then tried to turn serious again. “Catching this guy with the fancy Mustang is a big deal for us. He was a real danger to other drivers. He won’t be driving anytime soon.”
Simon was fixing his dinner while the news was on. He was making an omelet sprinkled with some shredded cheese added extra just for fun. He sat down as the story about the apprehension of ‘The Scorpion’ was wrapping up. The spokesperson from the highway patrol was saying, “We heard that an old guy in an old car was the one tossing the eggs. We don’t recommend anyone doing this, of course, but we aren’t going to worry about pressing charges.” You could see the guy was barely able to keep a straight face.
Later that night, Cathy called. “Dad did you see the news? What did you think about that old guy throwing the eggs at that speed freak? That wouldn’t be something you would do, would it?”
Simon joked with her, not wanted her to think he might have done it, “You know maybe I would. It might feel good to let off a little steam now and then.”
“Dad,” Cathy pleaded, “Please don’t say you are condoning this. You always taught us to behave and follow the rules.” She sounded worried.
Simon laughed, “I know, dear. I’m just kidding. Don’t worry. I’m just a crazy old man.” He laughed again and then changed the subject. “Now, tell me how Bob and those grandkids of mine are doing.”
After they hung up, Simon sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. He saw a flood of those memories from the past months washing over him like a wave carrying positive feelings of emotion and strength and happiness. He felt more alive than he had in a long time. In the future he wasn’t going to go out looking for trouble, no, he wasn’t that kind of a guy. Besides, it wasn’t about responding to trouble. It was about being alive and feeling like your life was worth something and taking control of it when you could. That’s how he felt. Tomorrow he’d go for a drive. Just for the fun of it. Maybe head down the Mississippi to the quaint river town of Red Wing. He and Ann used to go there for little getaways. Sometimes they’d even see eagles soaring. If he was lucky maybe he’d see some tomorrow. Yep, that sounded like a good thing to do. It was time to rekindle some more good memories. Maybe even make some new ones. Time to enjoy being alive.