Friday, April 8, 2022

Andy Young: Night riding with an old friend

By Andy Young

My friend Jeff came by for a visit last Friday night. He arrived unannounced, as he always does, but that’s never bothered me, and it never will. 

Every time Jeff visits, I’m filled with gratitude and wonder. I’m reasonably sure he is too, although he rarely verbalizes his feelings.

The two of us decided to go for a late evening drive the night he dropped by. Jeff was at the wheel, which was perfectly understandable since it was his car. But there’s a significant backstory behind why he was piloting the vehicle while I contentedly rode shotgun.

When the two of us took a memorable camping vacation to see our mutual friend Stan in Wisconsin nearly four decades ago, Jeff and I unanimously agreed he’d serve as lead driver. He was infinitely more mechanically inclined than I was, plus I had never driven anything nearly as big as his massive Buick. I was unsure of my ability to pilot something that to me looked more like an ocean liner than a motor vehicle, but Jeff calmly assured me that I was more than capable of doing so.

On Day One of our odyssey Jeff drove the first four hours, then asked me to take over. Less than 30 minutes later, in perfect weather and without any extenuating circumstances, I sideswiped a guard rail. The sparks caused by the friction of the car screeching against heavy gauge ribbed steel while traveling at around 60 mph were spectacular, but even more impressive was that Jeff remained levelheaded, even though I had, through utter carelessness and incompetence, tattooed his forest green, previously undented pride and joy with a permanent white racing stripe.

On last week’s ride the two of us reminisced about old times while heading for my new apartment in Norwalk. I wanted to show him the photo-covered cork board in my kitchen that featured not only a decades-old photo of the two of us camping out on a 42-degree July morning in northern Michigan, but another one, taken the next day, of Jeff, Stan and I posing outside our tent somewhere in the Wisconsin woods. Shaking our heads, we realized those two long-ago snapshots pictured the three of us at approximately the same age Jeff’s two adult daughters are today.

As we drove through a surprisingly snowy night, I suddenly realized I was going to be late for school. We both laughed about that, since I confessed to him long ago that, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, I have recurring, vaguely troubling dreams of being tardy for something important. And while the precise scenario is always different, I generally awaken from such nightmares feeling vaguely uneasy. On those occasions it always takes a few extra moments to fully regain consciousness and have my palpable anxiety dissipate.

Since neither Jeff nor Stan ever alerts me ahead of time about when they might stop by, I have no idea when I’ll see either of them again. Sadly, there’s no reliable way to know when two friends, one who died in a car accident more than three decades ago and the other who succumbed prematurely to a horrific and incurable neurological disease, will next show up in another one of my nocturnal illusions.

I know this, though: I’m eagerly looking forward to our next get-together. And after that sweet but too-brief dream inevitably evaporates into the ether, I’ll be even more determined to positively impact the people around me the same way Jeff and Stan undoubtedly would have, had each of them only been given a lengthier opportunity to do so. < 

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