Road Rage

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.

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Butterflies Danced

The day was cloudy and peaceful and still
There was a sense of immanent rain in the air
A calm before the storm it may have seen
Yet the garden was alive with bright flowers so fair
And among the floral blossoms butterflies danced their way through
Adding more color to the beauty already so true.

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Quiet Summer Morning

The morning was so quiet you could hear the bees buzzing

You could almost hear the butterfly’s wings fluttering too

The sun was floating low in the east

Suspended like an orb of soft rosy hue

A walker out strolling slowed his pace to a crawl

Soaking in the peaceful presence and the magic of it all

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Still Waters Run Deep

My neighbor in an apartment building I lived in some years ago took the bus into downtown Minneapolis early every work day and came home via bus usually around 9:00 pm every night. He was very quiet and we only spoke in passing. I often wondered what his life was like. It gave me the idea for this story.

The early morning express bus from the western suburb made three stops before getting on Hwy 394 and beginning it’s twenty minute non-stop trip into downtown Minneapolis. Doug Larson always arrived at the first stop promptly at 6:40 am. He lived in a tiny, one bedroom apartment just a few blocks away, close enough to walk in even the most inclement weather. He had been riding the bus into work for the past twenty years. He was fifty nine years old and had been divorced for nearly thirty years. He was one of those guys you rarely noticed, and if you did, you immediately forgot about.
Doug liked his time alone on the bus ride. He always read the newspaper, feeling guilty if he didn’t at least try to keep up with both the local and national news of the day. He was usually finished by the time the bus arrived at his stop on the corner of 6th Street and 10th Avenue. He worked as a mortgage consultant for US Bank whose offices were in the US Bank building near to his bus stop. It was the same job he’d held for the entire twenty years he’d been employed by the bank. He was a solid, reliable employee who had no aspirations of going anywhere in the company but where he was right now. He was at his desk every day at 7:30 am promptly and he worked until 5:00 pm, stopping only for a fifteen minute break in the morning, a forty-five minute break for lunch, and another fifteen minute break in the afternoon. After work he walked five blocks to the First United Presbyterian Church where he spent the rest of his day and early evening volunteering his time as a book keeper and accountant for the church. He boarded the days last express bus out of the city at 8:30 pm and was usually back to his apartment by 9:15 pm. Day in and day out this was Doug’s life. He never thought much about it, he just did it. But all of that changed one day when Evelyn Young sat down next to him one morning in early summer just as he was settling in to read his paper.
“Good morning, young man,” she said, with a pleasant expression. “Nice day, isn’t it?”
“What the heck?” Doug sputtered and jumped in his seat. To say he was taken aback was putting it mildly. “What…What do you want?” he stammered. He gave her a quick look, thinking maybe she was an addled old lady and waved a hand at her, like shooing a fly, “Get away from me.”
She laughed, “Don’t worry, young man,” she said, poking at him with her elbow, “I’m just making conversation.”
Doug noticed that some of the passengers around him were half way watching and kind of smiling. Maybe he was over reacting. Maybe she was just a harmless old lady. He certainly ran into enough of them at his church. Calming down a bit, he decided to be a little nicer. “Sorry. You just startled me.”
The bus was picking up speed as it merged with the traffic on Hwy 394. She must have boarded on the last stop. Probably where the Lakeside Senior Housing complex was. He didn’t want to be rude, but he was curious about where she lived. You never know, he thought to himself, she might just be lost and confused about where she was. “Are you from around here?” he asked.
“Yep. Just back there at Lakeside. My name is Evelyn. Evelyn Young. You can call me Evie.”
Well, that answered that. The old lady seemed pretty sharp and certainly had her wits about her. In addition, she actually seemed kind of nice.                                                                                           “Pleased to meet you, Evie,” Doug said politely. He relaxed a little and began to turn his attention to his paper. Even though he was uncomfortable with her next to him intruding on his space, he decided to put up with Evie for the ride into Minneapolis. How bad could it be? She was a nicely dressed, small statured, gray haired old lady. Probably harmless. He turned his attention to his newspaper. “Now if you don’t mind…” He made it a point of rustling the pages.
“I don’t mind,” Evie said, and reached over him. “Mind if I borrow the sports section?”

Evelyn Young was seventy eight years old and had recently moved into the Lakeside Senior Living complex. She had been a widow for the past ten years and had eventually been unable to continue to maintain and keep up the home left to her by her late husband. After Fred had died Evelyn had not missed him for a moment. Heartless old so and so she’d permit herself to think when she thought about him, which was rare. He’d been a philanderer and emotional cripple and she didn’t miss him for a moment. ‘Good riddance to bad rubbish’ would be the plaque she’d have put on his grave stone if her children had let her, which they hadn’t, which was probably for the better in the long run. Who knew what some future archeologist would think if they happened upon that kind of inscription?
Evelyn didn’t mind living at Lakeside. She wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but she knew she was getting more and more frail as the years went by. That was OK. Her mind was still good and she was fit as a fiddle, as she’d tell anyone who asked. She was resigned that Lakeside would be the last place she would probably live. She even permitted herself to hope that she would die there and not stuck in some soulless room under the glaring lights of a sterile, hospital bed, with white noise in the background and the smell of death and disinfectant all around her. No, that’s not what she wanted at the end of her days. Not in the least.
She had three children, two daughters and a son. She was closest to her oldest daughter, Amy, who lived with her husband and four kids in Apple Valley, a suburb forty minutes from her. Her other two children lived out of state, one in Oregon and one in Delaware. She saw them once or twice a year and that was fine with her. She stayed in touch by phone and through email and Facebook. She didn’t feel lonely for her kids at all. She enjoyed the freedom of being able to live out her life the way she wanted to live. She was doing a pretty good job of it, too, if she did say so herself.
After Fred had died Evie started volunteering her time to various organizations and charities around the Minneapolis area. Fred had been a successful businessman. He had also been cavalier with his spending and investments. As a result Evie was not wealthy but had enough money in savings to live fairly comfortably at Lakeside. She felt good about giving her time to others. She belonged to “Story Time Players”, a group of seniors who went to local schools and did readings and plays for grade school children. The group was currently on hiatus during the summer school break, but would soon get together and start planning and practicing for the fall season. Last year they had done ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ to rave reviews. They were going to kick off the fall season with ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ and she was looking forward to it. She liked the interaction with both the seniors in the group and the kids where they performed. She also volunteered downtown at the Hennepin County Medical Center in the Obstetrics Unit where she assisted mothers with their new born babies. In addition to those volunteer activities she had friends she had made at Lakeside and she was in touch with friends she had made throughout her life. Right now her days were rich and full and she was happy. So why had she taken it upon herself to try and befriend this middle aged man on the bus that she had been casually observing for the last few weeks? She had no idea, it just seemed like the right thing to do.
During the ride downtown that first day they’d met Doug was pretty uncomfortable. Evelyn, Evie, seemed harmless enough. Maybe he shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. The thing was, he just didn’t want to get into some kind of situation where she would want to ride with him every day. He liked his privacy. He liked being by himself with his newspaper. He liked being alone with his thoughts. He didn’t want the boat that was his life to be rocked.
As if reading his mind, Evie said, “Don’t worry, young man, I’m not going to interfere with your time alone on what I’m assuming is your way into work. I just wanted to be friendly and say ‘Hi’.”
Her assertive attitude was something Doug was not used to and he told her so.

“You just seem a little too aggressive. A little too forward.” He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. He was unused to talking so directly to people, let alone little old ladies he’d just met on the bus. That in and of itself was a novel experience, one more on this increasing exceptional day of novel experiences. He checked his watch. It was only 7:00 am.
He need not have worried that his words may have affected her negatively. She didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she kind of liked it. “Yeah,” she said, with what he could have sworn was a wink, “I get that a lot.”
He was relieved when the bus reached downtown and in a few short blocks Evie rose from her seat pulling the stop cord. “Well, I’m off. Today’s my day at the hospital.”
“Is something the matter?” Doug asked. Even though they had just met, Doug found himself slightly concerned.
“Me? I’m fit as a fiddle. I do volunteer work when I can,” she said. “Helps keep me young.” She laughed as she made her way down the aisle. In a few moments was off the bus and walking jauntily down the sidewalk.
Doug watched her with a strong sense of relief. He was looking forward to getting back into his routine and couldn’t wait to get to work. He liked order in his life. He liked things simple and uncomplicated. Yet, on the other hand, though his encounter with Evie had been strangely unsettling, it also had been…not fun exactly, but kind of interesting. She had amazing energy for an old person, and such a positive attitude. Doug couldn’t remember when he’d met anyone like her. Yes, he thought to himself, it had been interesting and but also unnerving. He shuttered a little, the stress of the morning’s encounter coursing through his body. He wondered what it would be like when he saw her again, which he was sure he would given that it was now apparent that they rode the same bus. Oh, the complications, Doug was thinking as he rose in his seat to disembark. What’s to become of me?

Now the story of Doug and Evie could have ended right at this point but it didn’t. Doug could have easily started taking a different bus into work, thus solving the problem of running into Evie and making it possible that he’d never see her again. But he didn’t do that. There was something about her…something that Doug couldn’t put his finger on. He couldn’t get the encounter out of her out of his mind. All through work the rest of the day he kept thinking about her. What a remarkable woman, he thought to himself. At odd times her image would pop into his brain, this little old, slightly hunched over lady with the energy of someone much, much younger. He was at a loss to explain why he was reacting to her the way he was.
The answer came to him later that night after he’d taken the bus home. He had walked through the warm, peaceful summer evening, climbed the stairs to his apartment and was preparing to go to bed. He had looked at himself in the bathroom mirror and realized that her impact on him was due to the fact that she was the first new person he had met and talked to in he didn’t know how many years. Emphasis on new. Looking back at him in the mirror was a plain looking, nearly bald, slightly overweight middle aged man who, Doug now had to admit to himself, had nothing really all that interesting going on in his life. He broke his bedtime routine and went into the kitchen, boiled some water and made himself a cup of chamomile tea. He sat at his tiny kitchen table sipping contemplatively, staring at a street light illuminating the darkness outside his window. The encounter had affected him in a way he could not get over. Evie was not like the people he met daily at work or at the church. No, those folks were just acquaintances, people he dealt with and then never really gave another thought to. Evie on the other hand had been a force of nature and try as he might he could not forget her. There was something about her that he found intriguing. He finished his tea, rinsed the cup and headed off to bed, surprised to find that he was looking forward to seeing her the next day.
But Evie was a busy woman and had a lot going on in her life. It was nearly two weeks before he saw her board the bus again. She looked down the rows of seats and Doug was able to make eye contact with her. He moved over to make room for her on the seat.

“How have you been?” he asked as she sat down. “I was wondering if I’d see you again.”
Evie smiled with a pleasant little laugh and said,

“Just couldn’t live without me, eh?” And again, poked toward him with her elbow.
Doug smiled back, slightly embarrassed. For an old lady Evie had a definite ‘electrical’ presence about her, making the air around her buzz with energy. “Well,” he paused, not used to having these kinds of conversations,

“I was wondering how’d you’d been. What you’d been up to.”
“How nice of you, young man,” Evie smiled as she settled in, saying “Hi” to a young lady who was moving past. “That’s Jeannie Atchison,” she said as an aside to him, “She works at Lakeside.”
“By the way, you can call be Doug. My name’s Doug Larson.”
“Well, finally,” Evie said, with her ever present smile, joking with him. “I was wondering if you were ever going to introduce yourself.”
“Do you want the sports section?” Doug asked. He was a little stiff and kind of formal acting. He’d been thinking about this next encounter since he’d decided he wanted to get to know her better, maybe develop a friendship with her. He’d even rehearsed what he was going to say.
Evie laughed, making him feel more comfortable. “Sure. Thanks.” she said, taking it and looking over the front page. “Hey, the Twins won again. That’s nice.”
“Yeah, our new coach seems to be doing things right,” Doug added and that was enough to get the conversation going.
The rest of the way into downtown they talked about the Minnesota Twins and baseball and other events happening in the world of sports. The longer they talked, the more comfortable and relaxed Doug became. In no time at all they were at Evie’s stop.
Doug asked her if she was volunteering at the hospital today. “I am,” Evie said. “I just can’t seem to get enough of those new mothers and their babies.”
“What bus do you take home?”
“I usually leave around 5:00 pm.” Evie paused, a quizzical look on her face. “Why?”
Doug wanted to prolong their time together, but didn’t want to scare her off. He just liked being with her. He couldn’t believe how lonely he was. How starved for friendship he was. And that was the thing he hoped for more than anything, that they could become friends. “Just wondering,” was all he was brave enough to say.
“Well, I’m off then.” Evie rose to leave. “I might see you tomorrow.”
“Ok, see you.” Doug watched her walk down the aisle and out onto the sidewalk. Getting to know her was making him happy and happiness was a feeling he was unused to.

If Doug was intrigued by Evie and happy to have begun a friendship with her, Evie was just as happy to have begun a friendship with him.
“Mom, you can’t be serious,” her daughter, Amy, said when she told her about the strange unassuming man she’d met on the bus. “How can you be certain he’s not some kind of nut. A serial killer maybe.”
Evie laughed. “Really, dear, I don’t know where you get your ideas. He’s just a nice, quiet man, with not a whole lot going on in his life.”
“So that’s a good reason to talk to him?” Amy had an edge to her and sometimes a derisive way of addressing her mother.
Evie sighed, happy in one sense that her daughter was willing to look out for her, but slightly put out that Amy didn’t accept that her mother could make her own decisions. “Trust me, he’s harmless.” In a tone that let Amy know her mother was serious enough to not change her mind. She changed tact,     “So are you going to date him?”
Evie exploded in laughter. “Not on your life, young lady, I’m way beyond anything like that in my life.” Then she turned serious, wanted to allay her daughter’s fears. “Really, we a just friends.”
“Are you sure he doesn’t think like that?”
“Yes I am.” Evie said. “Positively, without a doubt.”
“How do you know?”
And Evie proceeded to tell Amy about the conversation she and Doug had about few weeks into their friendship about just that very same thing. And how Doug had been so embarrassed that he’d quite riding her bus for a few days until he finally got over it, meeting her at their regular seat and apologizing. “I’m an idiot,” he said, all flustered. “I definitely don’t want you to think like that. I just want us to be friends.”
Evie was quick to relieve him of his fears. “Let’s just put it behind us, OK?” And that was that.
“So what’s the attraction, then, mom?” Amy asked, happy to have that discussion out of the way.
Evie had thought about this very question for a while. “I like that we can talk.”
“Really? That’s it?” Amy was skeptical.
“Yes, dear, really.” Evie said, thinking about Doug and his newspaper and the books he told her he was reading. “He’s very well read. Besides, remember what I told you what your grandma always said.”
“Right, I know,” Amy sighed, rolling her eyes. “Still waters run deep.”
“Well, it’s true you know. You never know what’s beneath the surface of some people.” She paused before adding. “Doug’s like that.”

And it was the truth. She enjoyed the discussions they had riding into downtown. They could talk about anything, which, for Evie, was a novelty. Her late husband had clammed up sometime during the third year of their marriage and hadn’t said anything truly interesting to her for the rest of his life which was much to her chagrin because Evie loved to talk to people. She and Doug found they could talk about not only sports, but current events of the day like politics (they were both Democrats), the environment (they were both avid recyclers and tried to be as green as they could be), religion (despite Doug’s volunteering at the church, they both still had questions), families (Doug enjoyed hearing about Evie’s children and grandchildren since he didn’t have any), books (Evie enjoyed reading as much as Doug did) and even music. Doug surprised her one day when he asked if she had ever been to the Wednesday night summertime concerts held at the Depot park down by the lake near where they both lived.
“We go all the time. A bus from Lakeside takes us seniors down there, drops us off and then picks us up when it’s over. Why?”
“The park is just two blocks from my apartment. I might walk down there this Wednesday. A group called ‘The Stetsons’ is playing. They play old time country swing music. I kind of like them.”
“Tell you what,” Evie said getting enthusiastic, “I’ll meet you down there. How’s that sound?”
So Doug met her and they had a great time listening to the old songs, watching people and enjoying the free ice cream bars a local business gave away. At one point Doug sighed and stretched back in the canvas lawn chair he’d taken to the park. A light southern breeze was wafting off the lake. Gulls called as they circled overhead looking for hand outs. Little kids laughed and danced in the sweet summer grass. To the west the sun was sinking below the tree line of the horizon, turning the sky crimson. “Isn’t this great? I haven’t been this relaxed for I don’t know how long.”
Evie smiled and nodded. She felt the same.

While the quality of Doug’s life improved, for Evie it was the development of their friendship that she really appreciated. Her marriage had been a farce, she was able to admit to herself. She had done the best she could and was happy she had stayed married and raised her children, but her relationship with Fred was not fulfilling in the least. She had lots of woman friends but Doug gave her a chance to have a friendship with a man, something she’d never had before. She enjoyed Doug’s company because even though he was shy and quiet, the more comfortable he became with her the more interesting he became.
“What’s that you’ve got on your hands?” Evie asked one Monday morning in late August.
Doug checked and then became embarrassed. “Opps. Guess I didn’t get all the grease off.” Evie gave him a questioning look. “I decided to get my old bicycle out and take it for a ride. I had to clean it up a little first.” And he proceeded to tell her about his vintage black Raliegh three-speed he’d purchased some years back but had given up riding. “I just got in the mood to get it out again and clean it up. I went for a ride yesterday on that trail that goes through town. It was fun.”
It was one of the things she liked about him. Doug did things. Her late husband would mull over starting a project or making a decision to do something until the cows came home. And then never did anything anyway. An avid birdwatcher, Evie tried to include him once on going for a walk to check out birds in their neighborhood. He’d looked at her like she had lost her mind. So imagine her surprise later that summer when she mentioned that she’d seen a pair of scarlet tanagers in the woods behind Lakeside and Doug had almost jumped out of his seat he was so excited.
“Scarlett tanagers,” he exclaimed. “I haven’t seen one in over thirty years, let alone a pair of them.”
“Well, come up to my place and you might see them both.”
“I will.” Doug then told her about his lifelong love of birds and bird watching. The next weekend he rode his bike over to Lakeside to meet her. They sat outside on the patio watching for the birds and were eventually rewarded with a brief sighting. Doug was excited. “Now that’s what I call a find. It’s truly a gift to have seen those birds.”
Birds of a feather, thought Evie adding another ‘like’ to the mental list of ‘likes’ about Doug that she was unconsciously keeping in her mind.
Every now and then Doug would ask Evie a question that made her think. Just before Thanksgiving he asked her if she had any regrets in her life. “Anything you wish you would have done that you didn’t do?”
Evie didn’t even have to think about it. “Yes,” she spat out. “I wish I would have finished my degree in English Literature.” Each of them had a deep love of books and for some time now they had been talking about books they were reading and even loaning favorites to each other.
“Have you ever checked out classes online?”
“You mean like through local colleges? I’m not sure that’s for me.”
“There’s other options. I’ve found a couple of sites that are connected to various Universities throughout the world. You can take all kinds of classes. They’re free. If you just want to learn about something, it’s a great way to go. They last on the average about eight weeks. I’m taking one now about the atom and subatomic particles. Just for fun.”
“Do they have classes on literature?”
Doug reached into his pocket and took out his pen and opened his briefcase for a piece of paper.              “Here, let me write the sites down. You can look them over and see what they have to offer.”
That night online she found a class on twentieth century English literature through a well known University in England that started the first week of January. She registered and couldn’t wait for it to begin. Again, it was another thing that Doug did for her that helped make her life more fulfilling.

One day in February Evie was complaining about not being able to get to the local natural foods Coop. “My daughter usually drives me, but I don’t want her wasting her time anymore. She’s got her family to think about. I guess I’ll just have to start taking a cab. That’ll be OK.”
Doug said, “How about if I drive you?”
Evie was floored. “What do you mean, drive me?”
Doug turned red, embarrassed. “Well, I have a car.”
She was shocked. “Why didn’t you ever tell me before?”
“Well, it never came up. I just don’t like to drive much.”
Evie shook her head. “You continually surprise me, Doug Larson. And, yes, I will take a ride to the Coop, thank you very much.”
Doug’s car was a pristine sage green Prius. On the next Saturday he drove up to the entrance of Lakeside, opened the door for Evie, got her settled and headed out to Fresh Market Coop. He filled Evie in about his car and driving situation. “I bought the Prius seven years ago to make sure I had a back up mode of transportation. You know, just in case I wanted to drive somewhere.”
“You could have rented,” Evie pointed out.
“I know, but that’s not the way I look at things. I got my first car when I was sixteen. Owning a car back then was a big deal for me. After my divorce, I moved out here, and even though I had my job downtown I just didn’t feel like driving in. So I sold the car I had at that time and started taking the bus. I bought the Prius kind of on a whim. I drive it only occasionally.” He laughed, “I just have to make sure the battery doesn’t run down. Costs a couple of hundred dollars to get it started.”
“Do you ever take any trips?”
“Not yet. But, you know, to be honest I have been thinking about going down to Nebraska this spring. You know, for the sandhill crane migration.”
Evie knew all about the spring migration in March of the sandhill cranes. They congregated along a fifty mile stretch of the Platte River between Grand Island and Kearny Nebraska. “Are you going this spring?”
“Maybe.” Doug sighed and glanced out the window. “It’s a long way to drive.”
“Jeez, Doug. What are you waiting for? If I were young like you I’d make that drive in a heartbeat.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ll think about it.” At that point it was the perfect opportunity to ask Evie if she wanted to go with him but he didn’t bring it up. He liked Evie but he still valued his privacy. And Evie seemed happy to live the possibility of the trip vicariously through him. That was fine with him.
As usual she seemed to read his thoughts. “You probably think I would like to go with you but don’t worry. I’m not in the mood for any long trips any more in my life. This old joints of mine would probably stiffen right up. If you go send me a post card with pictures of cranes on it. That would be fine.”
Doug smiled. Evie continued to amaze and surprise him. He had to admit that she was fast becoming the best friend he’d ever had. “I’ll keep you posted,” he said. “You’ll be the first to know if I decide to go.”
“Deal,” Evie said, and settled back, looking at the winter scenery passing by. Ice fishing houses were out on the lake. There was a couple of feet of snow on the ground. The sky was a deep, robin’s egg blue. A light wind blew from the north. The temperature was five degrees below zero. It was the coldest day of the winter. “I’m ready for spring,” she said with a sigh, and, for fun, started wondering what spring was like down in Nebraska on the Platte River.

Doug didn’t make it to Nebraska that year. He had a heart attack instead. It happened about a month after he’d taken Evie to the Coop. Since he had been unable to ride his bicycle during the winter months, he’d taken to getting up early every morning and going for a quick mile and a half walk on the neighborhood streets around his apartment. The walk was strenuous due to the hills that made up the landscape of the town he lived in. He had gotten himself into pretty good shape, but perhaps it was the cold weather, the stress of an extra fast walk, or, in retrospect, the fact that his father had died of a heart attack at the early age of fifty two, but Doug had collapsed just as he entered the front door of his apartment building. He had fallen loudly against a neighbor’s door waking up the couple who lived there and one of them had called 911. Within five minutes an ambulance was on the scene and in less than an hour Doug was in the emergency room of the hospital closest to where he lived. This happened on a Wednesday. It wasn’t until Friday that he had been able to call Evie, who was beside herself with worry.
“I didn’t see you on the bus Wednesday or Thursday. I called your apartment Thursday night but only got that idiotic answering machine of yours.” She was so upset and worried she was almost shouting. Then she paused for a moment and took a breath figuring that Doug was in recovery and didn’t need her yelling at him. “Are you going to be OK?” She asked, calming down, her voice full of concern.
“I’ll be fine.” Doug assured her. “Even though I knew I was genetically pre-disposed to a possible heart attack, I guess I just didn’t think it would happen to me.”
“You shouldn’t have been so stupid,” she blurted out, almost yelling again. She was mad at the situation. Mad at Doug for letting it happen, and mad at herself that she couldn’t have done anything to have stopped it. She took a few deep breaths. She knew that Doug didn’t need her giving him a hard time. She was just worried. “What’s your doctor say about your recovery?”
“I’ll be alright. Just no bike riding for a while.”
“Funny,” Evie said, sarcastically. She wasn’t in a joking mood. She was very concerned about her friend. She had watched him grow as a person over the last year. He’d come out of his shell was the way she looked at it. To her way of thinking Doug still had a lot of years left. Who knew what the future would hold for him? Still waters run deep, like her mom had said and like she’d told Amy so many months ago. She was looking forward to being a part of his life. She softened her tone of voice. “I’m glad you called me.”
“You were the first person I thought of,” Doug said. He really meant it. In fact she was the only person he thought of calling. He didn’t really have any close friends other than Evie. Some people would think it odd, this friendship of theirs, but Doug didn’t care what others thought. It worked for them. They made each other’s lives better. That’s all that mattered.
They spent the next twenty minutes or so talking. Doug got Evie to believe what the doctors had told him, that there was no reason he shouldn’t make a full recovery. Finally Evie permitted herself to relax. She was amazed at how Doug’s heart attack had affected her. If she were honest with herself it should have been her whose health should have failed first. After all, she was nearly twenty years older than him. She didn’t expect that of the two of them Doug would be the first one to have a major health issue. But he did. She involuntarily shuttered. You just never knew when your time was up. Especially the older you became. She focused her attention back to Doug and their conversation, thankful right now just to be talking to him.
Too soon, it seemed, it was time to get off the phone. She could sense he was getting tired. “I should probably let you get some rest,” she said, wanting to stay on the line a little longer. Just to convince herself that he really was going to be OK and get better.
“I’ll be in here for a while. They need to keep running tests and then get me into physical therapy. Just think of me as ‘the convalescing patient’,” he said, laughing a little, making a silly joke.
Now, after the initial shock had begun to wear off and finally being able to talk to him, to Evie’s relief Doug was actually sounding pretty good. “Are you up for any visitors?”
“Let me check my calendar,” Doug said, and Evie could see him smiling over the phone. “I think I’ve got room for you in my busy schedule.”
“Tomorrow’s Saturday. I’ll check visiting hours and see you as soon as I can, hopefully in the morning. I’ll take a cab,” Evie added, always resourceful, always thinking ahead.
“That’d be great. It’d be nice to see you.” Doug was quiet for a moment. He was remembering when he’d been laying on the floor of the apartment building waiting for the ambulance to arrive. At that time he’d had no idea if he was going to make it. If he was going to survive. One thought that kept him going was that he wasn’t ready to die just then. He had more life in him. More living to do. The other thought had been of Evie and how she had jump-started his life. How she had enriched his days, and how much she met to him. She was the best friend he’d ever had. But now, lying in his hospital bed, with her on the phone, all he could think of to say was, “Thanks, Evie,” he said, hesitantly.
“What for?” Evie asked, even though she had an idea she knew what he meant.
“Never mind.” Doug said, although what he really wanted to say was, Thanks for being my friend. Thanks for being in my life. Thanks for helping me become a better person. And, most of all, thanks for being you. But he didn’t.
But Evie said, as if she could read his mind, “I think I know what you mean.” She was quiet for a moment and then added, “Hey, maybe when I come over tomorrow we can start to plan that trip of yours to Nebraska. You know, for next year,” she added.
On the other end of the line Doug laughed, and then was quiet, as if coming to some inner conclusion. “A trip to Nebraska sounds great.” He paused and then said, “Maybe you could come with me. You might enjoy it.”
Evie took about one second to make her decision. “Yes,” she said. “I think I would.”
“Come with me or enjoy it?” Doug asked.
“Both,” Evie said, and she meant it with all her heart.

Boundary Waters

I was wondering what it would be like to take a canoe trip up in the Boundary Waters. I’d last been up there in the early 60’s on a canoe trip out of West Bearskin Lake with my brother and some friends through the YMCA. This story is the end result.

“Holy crap,” Lonny Johnson exclaimed and banked his Cessna 185 float plane hard to the right. He’d caught a glimpse of something shinny on the shore of the lake. Maybe it was a reflection off the hull of the canoe he was looking for. He leveled off and flew back, keeping his eyes focused on the north shore of Little Swan Lake.
The guy he was looking for was named Charles McRoberts. He’d been missing for two days, but Lonny had only received the call that morning. He was working with the Search and Rescue crew out of Ely, Minnesota. Ely was in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area of northern Minnesota and considered to be the gateway to the intricate string of lakes and forests hugging the border between Minnesota and Canada. Search and Rescue spent all day yesterday in canoes looking for McRoberts but had come up empty. They’d called Lonny that morning asking for his assistance and he was more than willing to help. He’d worked with them before and he liked the team, four men and two women, highly trained professionals who were all skilled in handling the adverse conditions that often arose in the Boundary Waters.
Little Swan Neck Lake was about a half mile long and maybe a quarter mile wide. It was surrounded by pine trees and not much of the shoreline was visible. From past experience Lonny knew that ‘Little Swan’, as the locals called it, was not a good lake for camping due to its lack of room for a camp site. The trees were just too close to the shore which was really nothing more than about six feet of pebbly beach surrounding the lake. Lonny throttled the engine down as low as he could go and settled the Cessna in about a hundred feet off the surface, eyes intent on watching the shoreline. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Then he saw it. The canoe was resting half in and half out of the water in an indentation in the trees. The guy was laying next to it, not moving. Lonnie pulled the plane up above the tree line and circled back for another look. Yep, it was the guy he was looking for. He radioed Ted Peterson, the head of the rescue team with the news.
“Ted,” Lonny said when they’d made contact. “I’ve got him.”
“Where exactly is he?” Ted sounded out of breath. This was the second day the guy had been missing. They’d probably been paddling hard all morning. Lonny knew he’d be in a hurry to get to the site.
“He’s on the north shore of Little Swan. Near the west end.”
“Jesus. How’d he get way over there?” Ted wondered out loud. Lonny heard paper rattling. Ted was checking his maps. “He’s not even close to where he’d supposed to be.”
“Ya’ got me.” Lonny was circling back again. “He’s not moving.”
“We’re two lakes away, over on Granite. Got a portage of seventy five rods into Beauty, then one hundred and thirty five rods into the west end of Little Swan. We should be there in a few hours. Can you get down there to him?”
“It’ll be tight, but I think I can do it.” Landing was no problem. Taking off would be a challenge. The Cessna should be able to do it, though. “I’ll get down there. You hurry it up. I’ll contact you again when I get on the water.”
They signed off and Lonny made ready for his landing.
Charles “Mac” McRoberts lay on the rocky shoreline dying. At least he thought he was. He’d given up all hope of being rescued until he heard the single engine of the plane. He wanted to look up but he couldn’t move. Then the plane passed over and the sound of its engine drifted away and Mac thought he’d imagined the whole thing. Then, unbelievably, the plane circled back. He permitted himself to hope. He’d be saved. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that.
Charles McRoberts was a fifty nine year old business executive for a successful computer repair company located in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was an avid outdoorsman, comfortable with himself and his abilities in the wild. He’d canoed the Boundary Waters nearly every summer since he was first exposed to the area with his church group through the YMCA when he was fifteen. He loved the peace and quiet of the region, but he also loved to exert and prove himself. He had started taking solo trips ten years ago, stretching the limits of his physical abilities. The guys he hung out with all admired him. His ex-wife thought he was nuts and his current lady friend was ambivalent. Mac didn’t really care. “Life is for the living” was his motto and he planned to live life to the fullest or die trying. Which, on this trip, he almost did.
He’d been out for three of the ten days he’d planned when he had hit Little Swan Neck Lake. The day was sunny and warm with a strong wind blowing from the south. He’d been drifting, regaining his breath after a challenging 50 rod portage into the lake. His sixteen foot Wenonah Kevlar composite canoe bobbed confidently in the water. Mac watched a mature bald eagle soaring above the tall pines that surrounded the lake. The next portage was at the west end. At one hundred and thirty five rods it would take him a while to get to the next lake. He reached over the side and cupped his hand, wanting to splash some refreshing water on his face. And, just like that, an unexpected wave broke and caught the bottom of the canoe at the wrong angle and it tipped, tossing him over board. He braced himself for when he hit the water, but he wasn’t prepared for how cold it felt. In early June the ice hadn’t been out for more than six weeks and the water temperature was only around fifty degrees. The shock caused him to lose his breath. The weight of the clothes he was wearing pulled him under. In those first few seconds he thought he would drown. But adrenalin kicked in and he forced himself to the surface and grabbed for his canoe, which was floating upside down within arm’s reach. He was able to pull himself half out of the water onto the canoe but his strength was gone. He lay there bobbing in the water trying to catch his breath but he was having a hard time. There was a pain in his chest and his right arm was numb. He was wondering if he’d suffered a mild heart attack when he passed out. When he regained consciousness his canoe was bumping against the rocky shoreline of the lake. He gathered himself, willing his body to move as he crawled and pulled himself as far out of the water as he could. The last thought he had was how good the warmth of the sun heated rocks felt underneath him. Then he passed out again. For the next two days he drifted in and out of consciousness, not knowing that a search party had been organized and people had been looking for him since the morning after the day of his accident.
Lonny set his plane down with the precision of the confident pilot that he was. The twin pontoons skimmed the water and then he settled into a light chop and taxied toward where the canoe and the victim lay. He radioed Ted with his update.
“I’m on the water and making my way to the shoreline,” he said into his mouth piece. “I still don’t see any movement.”
“You be careful.” Ted replied. “You have your raft?”
“I do.” Lonny taxied as close to shore as he dared. “I’m going to use it to check on this guy.”
“Be careful, man,” Ted said. “We’ll be there as soon as we can.”
Lonny signed off, anchored his plane and got his raft out of the storage compartment. In a few minutes he was in the water, paddling the fifty feet or so between his plane and the shore. The guy still hadn’t moved and Lonny wondered if he was soon going to be making contact with a dead person. Lonny had been working with Search and Rescue for the past three years. Prior to that his life had not been too easy. When he’d been in his early twenty’s he had enlisted in the army and become an airplane mechanic stationed in Afghanistan. When his time served was over he came back to the states, where he’d had a hard time adjusting to the life he’d left behind before he’d enlisted. He had changed. He was glad to be done with the war and had turned his back on anything having to do with killing. For those first few years after he’d returned he had kind of turned his back on society too and had gone through a tough period with alcohol and drugs. He knew he had some issues to deal with, but right now he was just taking life a day at a time. He’d stopped drinking and smoking pot, bought his Cessna got his pilot’s license and was just trying to live a decent life. So far he was happy with how things had turned out. He’d started a little business taking customers to remote fishing areas in the Boundary Waters and Canada. Ted was a friend and also a vet, but he was a veteran of the Vietnam war. When he called Lonny with the opportunity to work with Search and Rescue, he jumped at the chance. It gave him an opportunity to be useful and perhaps help people. Over the last three years Search and Rescue had made a dozen rescues, all successful. Everyone had lived. As he approached the guy on the beach he wondered if maybe this would be the first dead guy he’d have to deal with.
Mac was dimly conscious of the events taking place around him. He’d heard the plane flying by overhead and he thought that it had landed on the lake. He just wasn’t sure if what he was aware of was for real or simply tricks being played on him by his imagination. He was in bad shape. He knew that for sure. He couldn’t move the right side of his body. He had lost track of time and he had no idea if he was going to live or die. Since the accident he had been unconscious most of the time, but when he came to he was somewhat lucid. When he was conscious he spent most of the time replaying the events that had brought him to this shoreline in the middle of the Boundary Waters.
He’d been planning this trip for a good six months. This was to be an opportunity for him to get out and prove himself. That’s the kind of person Mac was. Life to him was a competition. He was a driven, type A type personality type of guy. Driving to work to the company he owned was a chance to race other drivers in his high end Lexus RC-F. Going to the gym was a time to challenge himself to do workouts better and faster than the people around him. He rarely relaxed. He was divorced and had no children. He liked to force himself to be the best he could be. He never permitted himself to be sick and he looked down on others who got ill as weaker than he was. He worked hard to make his business a success and he enjoyed the money that came along with it. Being rich allowed him a degree of freedom to challenge himself even further. This canoe trip was a chance to prove to himself that he could survive a long solo trip through the Boundary Waters, something that not many people could say they could do.
He’d set it up that he would call his lady friend, Mary, every evening on his cell phone. Which he did. What he didn’t tell her was that instead of going for a ten day trip, most of which was going to be camping and fishing on one lake, he’d planned all along to really push himself to see how far he could travel in those ten days. So Mary had no idea where he was. When he didn’t call that night of the day he’d capsized, she immediately called the authorities. She’d driven up to Ely early the next morning and had been talking to Ted.
“He went in at Clearwater Lake,” she told him. “At least that’s what he told me.” She had a sneaking suspicion that Mac might pull something stupid. “But you never know with him. He tends to do pretty much anything he wants to do.”
So he could be anywhere, Ted thought. What a jerk to put people through this. But to Mary he tried to be consoling. “Don’t worry. We’ve got a lot of experience with this kind of thing. We’ll find him.”
When Lonny’s call came in, the first thing Ted did was radio Mary. “We’ve found him. Our pilot is with him now, and we should get to him in a few hours.”
“Is he alright?” Mary’s voice was full of concern.
“He seems to be. Our pilot is approaching him now in his raft. We’ll keep you posted.”
For some reason, Ted was finding himself not liking this guy they were rescuing. He didn’t have a lot of patience for people who felt the world revolved around just them. He tried to calm down and center himself on doing his job. Lonny came in on the radio.
“I’m with him right now.”
“How’s he looking.”
“Not good. I can’t see any broken bones. He’s unconscious. It looks like he capsized and drifted to shore with his canoe. He’s out of the water, but he’s pale and probably dehydrated. I don’t think he’s moved since he came up on shore. I can feel a pulse, so that’s good.”
That was good news, Ted thought to himself. He was back in his ‘Rescue’ mode. “Keep him warm with a blanket and see if you can give him some water.” He checked his watch. “We should be there in under two hours.”
“Sounds good. I’ll keep you posted.” Lonny signed off.
In his raft was some bottled water. Lonny grabbed a bottle, twisted the top off and was turning to give some to the victim when the guy made a quick movement, startling Lonny. Yep, he’s alive, Lonny thought to himself, thinking that the guy now might have a chance to live through his ordeal. Lonny bent to give him some water and the guy opened his eyes, making contact with Lonny.
“Who the hell are you?” The guy asked.
“Lonny Johnson,” he answered. He wanted to be friendly and see if he could get the guy talking. It would help him to judge his state of mind. “Pleased to meet you. I’m a pilot with the Search and Rescue team. What’s your name?”
“Charles McRoberts,” he said and then groaned. “Man, get me out of here. I don’t feel too good.”
“We’ve got our rescue team on the way. They should be here in less than two hours.”
Mac groaned again. “Can’t they get here any sooner?”
“They’re coming by canoe. They’ll be here shortly.”
He sighed and closed his eyes. Lonny wondered if he had passed out. After a few minutes his eyes flickered open. “I can’t feel my right arm or leg.”
“Here, let me give you some water,” Lonny moved to lift his head, thinking, I’ll bet this guy had a stroke.
He drank a little, most of it running down his chin. “Damnit. What the hell is wrong with me?”
Lonny gently lay his head back on a jacket he’d folded up to serve as a pillow and covered him with the blanket. “The rescue team had a medic with them who’ll check you out. Just rest. You’re going to be OK.”
The guy lay his head back and closed his eyes. “Thanks.” And was quiet for a few minutes. Then added. “You can call me Mac. It’s short for McRoberts.”
Lonny laughed. “Yeah, I kind of got that.”
Mac groaned again and then gave him a look half way between a grimace and a smile. “Smart guy you are,” he said, and then passed out again.
Lonny stood up and looked around. The wind was still light out of the south. The chop on the water was manageable. But the problem was that out to the west some clouds were building up and that might not be so good. In the north country, in June, storms could blow up quickly. Just a few years ago straight line winds had damaged an area of the Boundary Waters just fifteen miles east of where he was right now. Fallen trees out there formed piles, some of which were thirty feet high, that now were dried out and lay like dried straw waiting to burn. All it would take would be a spark from a lightning storm and the whole forest would ignite. Lonny watched the clouds saying a quick prayer that Ted and his team would get to him sooner rather than later.
His thoughts were interrupted by Mac. “Hey buddy. Can I have some more water?”
Lonny raised Mac’s head to drink and then helped him lie back down. “How’re you feeling?”
“Not good.” Mac sighed. “My damn right arm and leg. I can’t feel them.”
Lonny didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news. Let’s just get him out of here, he thought to himself. “The medic should be here in about an hour. She’s good. She’ll be able to help you.”
Sara Larson was the medic, and, like Lonny, had been in the war in Afghanistan. But she had adjusted to life back in the states lots better than he had. She was grounded and settled. She was also a good friend. “She knows her stuff,” Lonny assured Mac. “She’ll take good care of you.”
Mac rested for a few minutes and then came to. “I’m not sure about this,” he said.
Lonny had no clue what he was talking about. “What?”
Mac made a movement with his left hand. “All of this.”
“I’m not following,” Lonny said. He looked at Mac, who seemed distant, like he was drifting away.
“If I’ve got a stroke, if I can’t move…man, I’m not sure I’m ready for that.”
Lonny watched his patient, as he was now thinking of Mac as. He kind of got what Mac was saying. Here was a strong, healthy, in shape guy in the prime of his life, and now it may be that he would spend the rest of his life crippled and unable to do the things he was used to doing. Anything he could think to say sounded trite and dumb. So he just kept quiet and patted Mac on the shoulder. In a few moments Mac closed his eyes and drifted off.
Lonny had seen this kind of behavior before in the war with soldiers who had been shot and wounded, or who had been hurt in roadside explosions. Soldiers injured so badly that their lives had been changed forever. And even though Mac’s situation was not even closely related to those he’d seen in the war, the end result was the same. No matter what Mac’s life was going to change. He was going to have to learn to deal with it, just like Lonny had, and Sara had and Ted had. No matter what your expectations are, life doesn’t always work out the way you planned. You had to accept life’s challenges and hopefully grow from them and move on. Lonny knew that for a fact.
He sat back on his heels and watched the clouds building up in the west. They didn’t look too bad. Maybe we’ll get out of here OK, he thought to himself. The more pressing issue had to do with Mac and getting him safely off the lake. The plan would be for Sara to check him out and make him comfortable. Then Lonny would transport Mac to the harbor in Duluth which was about an hour’s flight south. From there he’d be transported via ambulance to the hospital. The staff there could deal with Mac’s physical well being, but his mental well being was something else again. Lonny thought about what he, personally, had gone through after returning from Afghanistan. It had been challenging to say the least, but he had preserved and was trying to make something positive out of his life. He guessed that Mac was probably one of those successful guys who had made a name for himself and in so doing was used to having people do whatever he wanted them to do. Mac’s life will change in a big way, Lonny thought to himself, especially if he comes out of this crippled due to a stroke. The more he thought about it, the more he was starting to feel for the guy.
Just then, Mac regained consciousness. “So what’s your story, pal?” he asked, his words slurring a little. “How’d you end up here flying an airplane?”
“Float plane,” Lonny said, trying to lighten the mood. “It’s a Cessna 185.” And Lonny told him about Afghanistan, and how hard it had been coming back, and the drugs and alcohol, and getting straight and sober, and finally how he ended up flying for a living and working with Ted and Search and Rescue.
Mac was silent for a few moments, taking it all in. “How old are you anyway?” he asked.
“Thirty eight.”
“Married? Kids? Family?”
“No, no and no.” Lonny answered. Then he smiled. “Still looking.”
Mac groaned, whether in pain or from past memories, Lonny wasn’t sure. “I’ll tell you something, young man, you’ve got your whole life in front of you. Don’t waste it.”
“I hear you.” He was thinking about Sara.
“I’m richer than rich,” Mac continued. “I’ve got it all.” He then indicated the numb side of his body. “But if this is what I think it is, I’ve got nothing.”
“I disagree,” Lonny said, despite the glare he got from Mac, a guy obviously not used to being disagreed with. “You got your whole life too,” he said, “It’ll just be different.”
Mac was silent, giving Lonny a stare. “I’m not used to being talked to like that.”
“Well, take it or leave it, it’s the truth.”
Lonny sat back and looked out over the lake to the west toward where Ted and his team would be coming in off the portage. He wondered if he’d over stepped some invisible boundary. He didn’t mean to be a jerk. He just felt strongly that Mac should realize that things could be a lot worse. He could still move parts of his body. He could still use his mind. He’d seen people in lots worse situations.
“I suppose you’re thinking it could have been a lot worse,” Mac said, breaking into Lonny’s thought.
“As a matter of fact, I was thinking that very same thing.”
“You know before you got here, I had a lot of time to think,” Mac said. “Maybe too much.”
“What’d you think about?” Lonny felt it was good to keep Mac talking.
“About life, mainly,” Mac said with a weak laugh.
Lonny looked at him. “What’d you come up with?”
“Not much.” Mac was silent for a few moments, reflecting. “Maybe this. This situation here,” he waved his good arm over his body, “It sucks.” Then he held up his hand to stop Lonny from saying anything. “But, yeah, maybe you’re right. Maybe it could be worse.”
Lonny smiled at him. This guy was not a quitter. “I could tell you some stories.”
“I’ll bet you could,” Mac said. “I’ll bet you could.” And he seemed to relax and fall in on himself, as if he had come to some inner conclusion. Like maybe his situation could, in fact, really be a lot worse. And he passed out again.
Lonny looked at Mac, wondering how the rest of his life would play out. Would he recover from the stroke or remain partially paralyzed the rest of his life? He’d probably never regain full use of the right side of his body. How would that affect him? Would he mentally be able to cope? Mac was a successful businessman and somewhat of an athlete. How would Mac adjust to the changes and challenges ahead? Did he have someone close to him who would help out? And the big question was this: Would Mac choose to allow his life to get better or would he let it spiral out of control and get worse? Lonny could tell Mac was a fighter. If he had to bet, he’d bet on him. He just might make it.
Just then a shout came across the water. Lonny looked up and saw Ted waving. The rescue team was through the final portage. They would soon be here. Help was on the way. Lonny looked back at Mac. His face was calm, almost peaceful. Lonny reached down and felt for his pulse. It was a little stronger than when he’d first arrived. Lonny took that as a good sign. He stood up and got ready for Ted and his team. There were already halfway across the lake, hurrying to complete the rescue. He looked down at Mac. Maybe he’s begun to make some sort of peace with himself, Lonny thought. Maybe he’ll come out of this OK.

The Performance Review

In the spring of this year I took an online writing course which jump started my interest in writing fiction. This story is one I submitted for an assignment to write a 1000 word story. It’s based on the years I spent working for Honeywell.

David Jasper Collingsford strolled arrogantly down the hall and knocked on the office door of his boss.
‘Come in.’ She said, pleasantly, opening the door to greet him. ‘David,’ she smiled. ‘It’s good to see you. Have a chair and sit down.’
‘Thanks’. With a smug smirk David sat down and gave his boss a quick once over. Peggy Sandquist was around forty five years old. She was short with a firm build and sandy, flyaway hair. She wore a dark blue skirt and jacket with a contrasting string of colored beads around her neck. She had an easy smile and almost everyone liked her. But not David. She had been his boss the entire twelve years he’d been a sales rep with the company, and he couldn’t stand her.
She smiled again. ‘How have you been?’
‘Good’, he answered, barely containing his dislike for her. ‘Been on the boat a lot.’
David had a big problem in his life and that problem was women. He honestly felt women had a certain place in society. And that place was definitely not on the same level as himself. He went to bars, met women and dated them. But he didn’t like being subservient to them. Especially where he worked and especially like he had to be with his boss. In short, he felt he was better than women. He knew this went against the grain of modern society’s attitude, but he couldn’t help it. It was just how he was. Now he had this yearly meeting to deal with, and he was ready. His plan was to be assertive and ask for a raise for all the great work he’d done as a salesman for the company. He was positive he would get it.
David was single, thirty nine years old and an athletic six foot one. His short cropped, dark hair and strong jaw anchored a confident face. He was tanned from hours spent out on his boat. He caught a reflection of himself in a window in the office and grinned, happy with what he saw.
They spent a few minutes with small talk before getting down to business, which was fine with David. He’d had all he could take of her babbling on and on about her stupid kids. He was just about ready to bring up the subject of getting a raise, when Peggy offered a rare frown, concentrating. ‘David, I’m afraid I have been receiving some troubling reports about you.’
David leaned forward in his chair. What the hell about?, he almost yelled, and then checked himself. ‘What about?’ he asked pleasantly, trying to keep his cool. He had no idea what she was talking about.
‘It has to do with how you are treating the receptionists.’
‘Them? What do you mean? I’m fine with them.’ David spat, bristling with anger.
‘Well, for one, you can’t call any of them sweetie or darlin’ or doll face. They have names, you know. Alice, Sue and Elizabeth. It’s very derogatory’. She held up her hand to stop him as he tried to interrupt. ‘And for another thing, you can’t keep asking them to get you coffee and run errands for you.’
David was stunned. This was idiotic. ‘Why the hell not? Aren’t they there to ‘support us’ he said, using his fingers to give air quotes around support.
‘Yes, David, but not like that’. Peggy was straining to be patient. ‘They are not there for your own beck and call. You should really know better than that.’ He fought to contain his anger. She had no right to talk to him this way. Peggy continued, looking him straight in the eye, ‘You are disrespectful to others in the office, your clients find you boorish, and you treat women, myself included, like second class citizens.’
David blew up. ‘I do not,’ he yelled, and stopped himself from pounding his fist on her desk. ‘I can’t help it if other people are incompetent.’
Peggy sat stunned, not believing what she was hearing. ‘David, I truly believe you should think long and hard about what you just said.’
David glared at her for a moment, struggling to calm down. Then something deep inside took over. He realized he could turn this situation to his advantage. After all, his boss was just a woman. He took a deep breath, and turned on the charm. ‘Hey, I’m sorry,’ he said, giving her a bright, cheerful smile. ‘I know I have a few faults, but, really, don’t you think my sales record supersedes all the complaints?’
Peggy sat back and sadly shook her head. ‘No, David, I don’t. It takes more than sales to make it in this company. You have to be a decent person, too.’ Then she got up, signifying the meeting was coming to a close. ‘David, I am placing you on probation. I would like to meet with you next week to discuss the next steps for you and your career’. The meeting was over. She ushered him out the door.
David was beyond mad. How dare she treat him like this? Literally seeing red, he stomped down the hall, bypassed the elevators and yanked open the door leading to the stairwell. His forehead was beaded in perspiration. His heart was racing. He leaned against the wall and sank to the cement steps. He was a perfect employee. How could she do this to him? Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a cigarette and lit it, blowing smoke to the ceiling. After a moment the smoke alarm went off. Then the sprinklers kicked in and water started raining down. David sat there livid, getting drenched and wondering if he should just quit. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea. To hell with her. And he quickly made the decision. He’d just quit. And he smiled, water dripping from his nose. That would really show her who was boss.