I first flew on an airplane when I was twenty-six years old. Not that I had never been anywhere-at least regionally; up until that time it had always been on a bus. My father was a driver for Greyhound and any time we traveled from Picayune to Houston, or Birmingham it was by bus. One of my jobs after graduation from high school was with Greyhound also-as platform worker and then as a telephone agent, and I continued to ride for free, to Charlotte, Knoxville, or Cleveland, on various occasions.
But in 1988, when I joined the Air Force, I flew for the first time, from New Orleans to San Antonio for basic training. It was exciting and new, and everything I had imagined. I was fortunate enough to obtain a career in the Air Force that involved flying as a crewmember on a reconnaissance plane-a job that took me to many places.
Since those early days, I’d like to think I have made up for lost time. Today, at fifty-two I have traveled to six of the seven continents and would like to devise a way to set foot on Antarctica and complete that item on the bucket list.
The following is a list of when and where I have been, created for my own amusement and to impress no one. If you find it entertaining, all the better.
The easy one, of course. In addition to the places mentioned above, I have lived in Charlotte and Wilmington North Carolina, Bellevue Nebraska, and Monterey California. I’ve visited many more places, as most others. I deployed on many occasions to Fairbanks, Alaska while in the Air Force. From there we flew to distant locations that were nowhere and right on target, so to speak. But that is another story altogether.
I was transferred while in the USAF to Mildenhall, England. While there, I went to language school in Garmisch, Germany for six weeks. As a result of weather complications, one mission with which I was associated landed in Scotland for the night. No one on the crew had extra clothing, which was easily enough overcome. The crushing blow came when the golfers on the crew looked across the runway from the airport in Dundee, Scotland and in the distance saw St. Andrews, with not a set of clubs in sight. That night we strolled around Dundee from pup to pub in our flight suits.
We purchased a Volvo while in the UK, and I went to take delivery in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Suffice it to say I have spent many hours above the Barents, Baltic and Adriatic seas, so that has to count for something.
My first overseas trip in the oil and gas industry. I flew from Houston to Washington, D.C., Brussels, Belgium and Monrovia, Liberia. I felt as if I were in every movie scene I could remember about Africa; bedlam in the streets outside the ramshackle airport, taken by driver on an hour long excursion to the hotel downtown, past shacks and muddy streets full of trash and squalor, with modern office buildings close enough to cast a shadow over all of it. From Monrovia, via helicopter to the Transocean Discoverer Spirit in the Atlantic Ocean for almost a month.
Returning from the ship, we were housed for a couple of hours in a compound in downtown Monrovia. The presidential election was only two days away, and the streets were jammed with demonstrators, carrying signs, blowing whistles and chanting. Once again, I recalled many a movie scene as citizens were shouting at us and shaking their signs and fists as our van crept along the road to the heliport. It was impossible to make it to the airport by car, so we were choppered from downtown to the airport. I found out at the ticket counter that I did not have a reservation anymore, and had to leave our traveling party and venture outside to the Brussels Air office along the street near the airport. After an hour of pleading and waiting, my reservation was retrieved from the bureaucratic maze and I was able to rejoin the waiting passengers in the airport. Upon departure, we stopped in Ghana on the way to Brussels, then home again via Newark.
Brazil is one of the busiest areas in the word for oil and gas exploration, and I was excited to travel there. I had been intrigued by Brazil since as a school kid I had read about the design and construction of a brand new capitol city, Brasilia, in the nineteen-sixties. (Yes, I am that much of a geek).
I was assigned to install and train on the use of a computer based digital testing software suite to drag the industry kicking and screaming into the 21st century of blowout preventer testing. The drill ship Noble Bully II was new and operated off the Atlantic coast based out of Vitoria, a beautiful city of almost two million people. I flew from Lafayette to Houston, then to Orlando and on to Rio de Janeiro. From there, to Vitoria and then to the ship via helicopter. I made three trips to Brazil in 2012 and loved the people, the food and drink, and the breathtaking scenery. With the exception of one hiccup (noted in the immediate post prior to this), travel was very enjoyable.
Also in 2012. I went to train and consult on BOP testing on the Transocean Deepwater Frontier, in the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia. I flew from Lafayette to Atlanta, then to Los Angeles and on to Sydney. The toughest part of this trip is that after the LA to Sydney leg, which seems to never and, I was still only part way there. I then flew across the continent to Perth, Where I had a two-day wait to continue the trip. Perth was a very nice city with pleasant people and good food, although expensive (a pint of beer cost twelve U.S. dollars).
Transportation from Perth began with a charter air flight, which was preceded by a minute inspection of our shoes and the insides of our pockets for foreign matter that would be harmful to the environmental quarantine in place on Barrow Island, the transfer point for us to the Super Puma helicopters that would ferry us out to the drill ship. There is a large population of workers on Barrow Island as part of a massive energy production project. The land is barren but beautiful, surrounded by gorgeous blue sea and quite a sight to see on arrival and departure by air.
I spent a month on the ship and then traveled back home, this time with only a 12-hour layover in the Perth airport, caused by a maintenance delay with the chopper leaving the ship. I sampled each and every type of Australian beer, at no charge, in the Virgin Australia Air Lounge during those twelve hours, and vaguely noticed the ridiculously long flight time home.
An ongoing adventure. In April of 2013 I changed jobs and began work as a consultant on software and control systems as they apply to new build drill ships. I work as a representative of an American oil company at the Hyundai Heavy Industries shipyard in Ulsan, South Korea. Three days into my first 28-day hitch, I got an email in the middle of the night with a flight itinerary home for that day. Thinking I had been unceremoniously fired, I contacted the office and was informed that due to the increasingly bellicose nature of the threats coming from North Korea, they were pulling all western contractors out of the shipyard, as it was assumed to be a certain target if hostilities broke out. So we left, for ten days, and then returned to resume work as usual.
I have tried every variant of air carrier possible to make this trip easier, but there is not much difference between them on a pretty grueling trip to make every 28 days or so. I usually fly from Lafayette to Dallas, then to Seoul Incheon airport or Tokyo Narita, and then transfer to a flight to Busan. I am met by a driver who takes me to an apartment in Ulsan, where the HHI shipyard is located. Each day I walk a mile to and from the office, and half a mile twice a day to and from the office and the ship being built. This is more exercise than I have had in twenty years, and I am actually enjoying doing so. Korea is a beautiful country with interesting people. Communication is difficult, but that is due solely to the fact that my language skills have diminished with age.
As I have traveled over the years, I have learned a couple of things. It never helps to get angry in an airport. I can be a mean sarcastic bastard when justified, but the prospect of sitting in an interrogation room in a foreign land does not appeal to me in the least. When frustrated, I retreat to the corner of my head where I learned to get by in the military: “Yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am.” Keep your cool and live to fight another day. Finding out that I have missed the registration date with the Brazilian Federal Police by three days and that they are not happy, all while being fingerprinted in a large law enforcement building with unsmiling people is not the way to spend a beautiful day.
I have also learned to try and communicate with locals, even if you butcher the language horribly. Breaking the ice by making the old woman who runs the restaurant smile because I am trying to eat soup with chopsticks works like a charm. And not being the “Ugly American” in a foreign land makes for a good adventure for all concerned.
In my travels between the United States and Brazil, I have entered and exited the country from both Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, with connecting flights to Vitoria, my ultimate destination on the eastern coast. This normally involves a transfer of planes between the smaller, regional Boeing 737s and the 767 and larger Euro models for the intercontinental portions of the trip.
Recently, while awaiting the night time transfer in Rio, I stumbled out of the frequent flyer lounge to observe the message on the flight status board that the flight from Rio to Miami was “Delayed minimum one hour.”
Momma not having raised a fool, I returned to the area of free drinks and available WIFI, concerned but not yet worried. Until this point, I had not experienced any issues with TAM, the local airline, and felt confident in their abilities. An hour later, my confidence began to ebb. The flight was listed as “delayed” as the flight crew sat in the gate area, laughing and gesturing as if they were not worried, so why should I be? Of course, you know what is to follow. (I found out the next day that they had removed an engine, replaced it with another, only to find that the electrical harness connections were not compatible.)
Eventually, at 1230 am, the flight was finally cancelled. I was able to glean this information from the flight status board, luckily, because all announcements were made only in Portuguese. As usual, this set off a mild panic among the passengers, due to the fact that of course there are only a few flights between these locations per day, and certainly not after midnight. Many of us were stuck.
I returned to the club to use the internet connection, but the club was now closed, and my internet access blocked. There were local WIFI connections available, but all instructions were in Portuguese and I would have been enlisting in the Brazilian Navy for all I knew. Upon return to the gate area, I was waved along with other passengers and accompanying instructions in Portuguese through the now empty immigration line and handed a red card to signify my return tomorrow for the flight at one p.m. (That much was understandable in my limited vocabulary.) I found myself in the baggage claim area, received my bag and wandered into the arrival area tired, confused, and most importantly, without an entry stamp in my passport. This would prove to be interesting the next day, but at this point, I had bigger fish to fry. After a stop at the airline counter, which turned out to be unmanned, I decided to take a taxi to a hotel and try again tomorrow.
Arriving passengers in Rio must pass through a gauntlet of taxi kiosks within the terminal, and I was hailed by every single one, in very limited English. For the moment I passed them by, with the intention of asking someone at the TAM airlines counter to assist in finding a hotel and then a taxi, being a business class customer, I thought that this would be relatively easy, until I discovered that there was no one working at the transfer counter at this time of night. Options rapidly diminishing, I approached the first available taxi kiosk and began to try and find a hotel in one of the busiest cities in the world, without an internet connection, a phone connection, or even rudimentary language skills for the occasion. Luckily I found a taxi agent who understood a very small amount of English, and coupled with the very small amount of Portuguese that I possessed, we made enough progress to find out that there were no rooms available. Anywhere. After a comedy of errors and mistranslations, she finally produced a taxi driver who knew of a hotel where there was a vacancy. Relieved but cautious, I thought “What’s the worst that could happen?” and climbed into the back of the taxi.
After a hair-raising dash along the downtown freeway from the airport to the city, we exited in the middle of downtown. I assumed that there must be some business related hotels in the middle of the city to accommodate the thousands of international meeting attendees and future Olympics emissaries, surely.
Let me say that for my entire life, I have seen movies, travel show episodes, and magazine articles about Rio de Janeiro. In each and every one, there were scenes of beautiful people on gorgeous beaches with exotic drinks in hand. There were lively nightspots with happy party people enjoying life in one giant celebration. Life was wonderful.
But not tonight. As we wound our way through the streets, along overpasses and within sight of the industrial waterfront, I noticed many not-so-beautiful people staggering around or standing in line for something from a dilapidated trailer on the sidewalk. As we turned onto a darkened street, I could see, to the left and down the street, a dimly lit lobby to what I surmised was a hotel and my destination. There were a few people milling around and leaning against the opening as we pulled to a stop at the curb. The driver said “hotel!” and got out to open the trunk and give me my bags, which I carried into the lobby.
The hotel décor was, to put it mildly, interesting. There was one dominant color-black. To accent the black, there were chrome highlights everywhere with little lighting and no cheer to be found at all. The only way I can describe my first impression was that I thought I was in a Quentin Tarantino film, and that was not a positive feeling. The man behind the desk was a hard-looking sixty, dressed in leather and chrome and managed to meet me halfway linguistically, which meant we had about ten words between us for communication.
“Taxi, Bom Dia?” (Literally, taxi, good day? I meant “In the morning?” But he understood my idiocy.)
I handed over my credit card, too tired to worry about how many third world scammers would be about to run up my MasterCard balance, and received the key to my room. I grabbed my bags again and entered an elevator the size of my closet under the stairs at home and headed to my room.
Somewhere down a dark corridor, located on the left side, was my room. After unlocking the door with the ancient key, I stepped into the room. The only positive thing that I can say about it is that it was surprisingly clean. The room was about ten feet by ten feet, with two single beds. There was a television hanging from a bracket attached to one wall, and a telephone on a small table between the beds. However, there were no instructions at all on how to make a call from the room. I had in my possession a phone number for a logistics person located in Rio, but even after deciding to wake him up at one a.m., still could not successfully make the call, no matter how many combinations I tried.
And the wifi signal promised by the man at the desk was also non-existent. I tried every possible signal present, even going as far as standing on the bed next to the window and tilting my laptop at crazy angles, only to come up with nothing. I was quite literally, electronically and linguistically, alone. And finally, hours later and having exhausted all efforts to let others know that I was not where I was expected to be, I settled into a fitful sleep, beneath the fan located in the window and without any cooling effect at all, wondering “How in the hell did I get myself into this?”
Three hours later, I showered, changed clothes and went downstairs to the same desk clerk. I managed to ask for a taxi to the airport and he motioned for me to wait there and he would return with a taxi.
I should say here that I suppose the term “taxi” can really be applied pretty loosely, depending on the circumstance. At the most, I would have been excited beyond reason to see a gleaming, yellow cab that would whisk me back to civilization. At worst, considering my luck to that point, would not have been surprised to see a bicycle. What I got was somewhere in between.
My seventy-year-old-if-a-day driver walked into the lobby of the hotel, I kid you not, with no shoes on. He smiled, took hold of my bags and walked ahead of me into the morning light with Rio traffic starting to zip by the street outside. In the semi-driveway next to the hotel sat a beat up car that looked like something abandoned on the side of the road. The driver hoisted my bags into the trunk, we got in and prepared to take off. It was at this point that I noticed the lack of a buckling mechanism on my seatbelt. unbelieving, I remained with the belt in my hand, stretched across my body as if that would even remotely help, as he rocketed into the street and we began the terrifying trip to the airport.
To this day, the memory of this old man shifting with his right hand, smoking with his left, gesturing with both and operating three pedals with bare feet makes me smile in amazement that was covered at the time in a thin veneer of terror. Add in a thousand movie scenes of the hapless American in a foreign taxi careening through traffic and you have a sense of my ride to the airport that day.
Upon arrival to the airport, the adventure unbelievably continued. From the dodgy receipt for the “taxi” I entered and lined up for customs inspection of my passport, which had not been stamped the night before. In my possession was the red card given to me as I departed the airport, but no entry stamp in my passport. After reading the panic, anger and confusion present in my eyes simultaneously, the passport control officer asked around and found that yes, I was not the first to return with this situation, which was probably a good thing, considering my very American untrustworthiness, in their eyes. I was mercifully waved through, and finally allowed to depart paradise. Perhaps one day I will return to Rio on better terms, as a proper tourist in a brochure-worthy scene. This is a country that I dearly love, from the food to the gorgeous scenery, and can’t wait to erase this night from the old travel memory.
As a parent, I feel as if I am on the cool-down lap after a long distance run. Three successes under the belt and Maggie and I can look at each other while sitting on the patio enjoying an evening drink and say “Yep, we did a good job.”
When we are younger and on the receiving end of advice from our parents, we all have roughly the same reaction…a roll of the eyes and a “Yes Mom,” or “Right, Dad.” And go right back to watching tv or reading. This reaction must be built into our DNA, and I can imagine Neanderthal teenagers shaking their heads and saying “Maybe that’s how you escaped tigers in the distant past, but I know better.” Which of course would have sounded like “Ugh, choo mu gup po Wog, Ugh.” But you get the picture.
Those of us in middle age, when not being flattered by ads replete with music by Creedence and Aretha, are fond of looking back on our heyday with a certain nostalgia. And I am certainly no exception. Until it comes to appearance. When I look at old family photos, or class yearbooks from the seventies, the first thought that comes to mind is “What the hell was I thinking?” From plaid bell bottoms to hair that looks like I just got released from the Hanoi Hilton, I was a mess. And I thought I looked cool.
And so here we are, fast-forward to 2012. My wonderful son, who is a delight to be around, well-mannered and very funny, is looking just like I did in his early college days. And he is certainly not alone. At least in the hair department, it seems that I have stepped out of a time machine.
Of course I try not to be like my father and those of his generation. The last thing I want to do is begin a sentence with “Back in my day…” but sometimes fatherly direction is necessary. Do I want to encourage him to be his own man in every way? Yes. Do I want him to cringe thirty years from now every time he opens a book of photos? Of course not. So I begin such discussions, tongue in cheek, with “Let me tell you a story about a guy.” He laughs and then rolls his eyes, which is progress, I guess.
The story of that guy is a long and continuing one. He matured, married a good woman whom he does not deserve, became the proud father of two exceptional daughters and the aforementioned son. Today he looks like most other fifty-year-old guys who need to exercise and squint through glasses when trying to read the menu at a restaurant. He is almost, as they say, a man in full.
My first car was a 1967 VW Beetle – candy apple red and eleven years old. My dad co-signed for the loan, which I paid for through my job at the radio station. Seventy-eight dollars per month, if I remember correctly. In the summer of 1978, I drove it relentlessly, trying to catch its reflection in the windows of stores along Canal Street in Picayune as I passed.
This particular model of bug had a metal dash, with a large speaker prominent in the center, through which I heard the songs of the day. I particularly remember “Miss You” by the Stones that summer, along with “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty. The saxophone solo of that song still sends me rocketing back to those hot days, driving to baseball practice or work in the automotive love of my life. Music and driving have always held an important place in my life, as I have detailed in other stories and posts. AM radio has given way to XM satellite and my bug to a pickup more befitting a grown man, but my heart remembers the earlier magic.
Highway 90 in Louisiana meanders through the swamps and pine forests between Lafayette and New Orleans. This is my route, more often than not in the middle of the night, from home to various heliports along the coast. From these locations I travel to drilling rigs, based on floating platforms and large ships, throughout the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This travel sometimes makes it necessary that I leave home at one a.m. to get to the heliport on time at five a.m. This is not ideal, but not everything is, of course. And when these journeys take place in winter in this part of the country, very early morning is often accompanied by fog, and lots of it. The highway rises and falls through small valleys of fog so thick that you can see nothing for twenty seconds, followed by clear sailing for a mile, then we do it all again. Music can make the trip go by quickly, and relieve the short bursts of terror when I am blind momentarily.
So it was that on an early January morning I was creeping along in the soup and heard on the radio that Gerry Rafferty had died in England, and that the circumstances of his last years were not great. He had fought alcoholism and depression for years, until the string finally ran out. I was again reminded that fame and fortune do not always buoy a life, and we never know the weight another person carries. I immediately went to my iTunes collection, selected his greatest hits and silently conducted a memorial to him. One particularly poignant song was “Night Owl” with the words:
Down the street the neon light shines Offering refuge and hope to the blind
You stumble in with no thought of tomorrow.
Yes, I get a little lonely when the sun gets low And I end up looking for somewhere to go
Yes, I should know better but I can’t say no.
I thought about those years and how time has changed everything. I wrecked the VW on the way out of town to my first concert in Biloxi and did not make it there. It was raining and foggy that day, too and I remember standing on the side of the road as the officer filled out the accident report and I saw that the driver’s license of the lady who had pulled out in front of me had a birth date with the year 1900. I was furious, and wanted to know why she was even driving at the age of 78. Now, in 2011, as I drove through the night, I realized that she has probably been dead for twenty years, and I am the age of my father at the time.
Gerry Rafferty and others like him choose to be artists, and sometimes art chooses them. I cannot imagine the inner torment that causes one to throw away that kind of talent and literally drink themselves to death, but I know that it can and does happen. In “Wise as a Serpent” he sang
Don’t blow your tomorrows, don’t throw away your love
You’ve got to be as wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove.
But, as they say, the proverbial road is paved with good intentions. And as I drove that night, and many since, I made a promise that I would make every effort to be a better person and take care of myself and the people I love more completely, so as not to go out the way he did, to be a happy and productive old man, driving the people around me crazy with exasperation and love. And I prefer to think of Rafferty to the tune of “Baker Street” and the lyrics:
But you know he’ll always keep movin’ You know he’s never gonna stop movin’
Cause he’s rollin’, he’s the rollin’ stone
And when you wake up it’s a new morning The sun is shining, it’s a new morning
And you’re going, you’re going home.
I’d like to think that he would like that.
Don’t ask me how I know, but the warheads from an intercontinental ballistic missile are actually quite beautiful in flight. During re-entry through the atmosphere, they resemble a roman candle, colorful and streaking through view in a beautiful distortion of their deadly intentions. The place we never want to be is at the receiving end of those beauties.
I am reminded of this fact as we are in the midst of annual fireworks displays for the Fourth of July, and Independence Day. When we think of the freedoms with which we are blessed, we all know that they were not acquired, and do not remain cheaply or easily. Every day there are Americans risking their lives for this country through their military service, including both my sons-in-law, and for that I am eternally grateful. During my time in service, I tried to remember that during my swearing in ceremony, I took an oath-not to the president or congress, not to the church, or even God for that matter (although that thought is always there), but to the constitution of the United States. I kept in mind that we were not only defending the freedoms that we had, but the very idea of freedom itself. I realized that although I was required to obey all lawful orders, the people who gave those orders were subservient to civilian authorities who answered ultimately to the American people.
But military people are not the only ones who put their lives and even reputations on the line for our freedom and independence. Each year on Independence Day, I am thankful for others who ensure our freedoms. I am thankful for journalists who ask the tough questions and seek the truth, not just a he-said, he-said equivocation that keeps them out of trouble with the owners of the network, who just happen to also own an entertainment conglomeration and weapons manufacturer.
Years ago, I heard someone say “Make all the lawyer jokes you want, but there will come a day when you can’t get hold of one fast enough”. There are many officers of the court who ensure that our freedoms and rights are defended, many times at no cost, because it is the right thing to do. I am thankful that there are police officers and prosecutors, though they seem fewer and fewer, who try hard and give up more money somewhere else, to make sure that laws are enforced fairly and apply a sense of judgment before wielding their power just because they can.
These are just a few of my thoughts today, on the Fourth of July. I am eager to celebrate and raise a glass to our freedom and to those who ensure that freedom. Thank you to all of you, and you know who you are.
The Driller’s name is Denny, but could easily be Bubba, or Pork Chop. On any given rig in the gulf at any given time, you will easily find someone who goes by the name of Tiny, T-Bone, Pup Joint or Tater. I do not go by any nickname, and like everyone else in the driller’s cabin on the rig floor, I am dead tired. I have also heard Denny’s hunting story for the third time now. He strode off the chopper today telling it to anyone who would listen. The first time my ears perked up when I heard
“It was getting’ dark when I saw that big black sonofabitch coming at us along the levee. I almost dropped my gun before I could get a good shot.” Once I figured out that he was talking about a wild boar, the rest of the story made a little more sense. “Me and my brother-in-law emptied the guns in him while the wife held the light on him. Finally He turned and ran into the woods. Tell you what, I never seen nothing like it.” I walk out of the compartment and into the night and towards the water cooler.
The drill floor is crowded with stands of iron drill pipe, like a bamboo forest. Each stand is about a hundred feet high and they are packed closely together, separated by metal fingers and latches high up in the derrick. The latches leave a few inches of clearance, and when the wind and seas rock the rig, like tonight, each stand collides with each latch and each other, creating a deafening clanging sound that is like nothing you’ll ever hear on land. We are experiencing the first bad weather of the fall in the Gulf of Mexico, on a night that the time changes back an hour and never seems to end.
I have been out here for twenty-something days now, on a project that seems to live and breathe on its own. I was part of a group to rebuild a huge machine to move the drill pipes around in their vertical state, a balancing act of hydraulics, pneumatics and electronics that is amazing to behold. That is, when it works correctly. I am still here because the electronic and programming segment has not quite come together fully, leaving three of us here for the duration. We do these adjustments and programming changes at night, in order to cause as little inconvenience to the drill crew as possible. So far, I have moved from day shift to night shift, back to days and then back to nights in the last three weeks and am not always sure of the date, much less the hour.
Rig crews in the Gulf work on rotating shifts of two or three weeks on the rig and then two or three weeks off at home. I do not work on such a schedule. I am on call 24/7 and have to take vacation to go more than two hours away from town. Ask any person on the rig, and they can tell you how many days and hours are left before they return to home. I sometimes think about joining the crew on a rig and enjoying the knowledge of secure time off and a set schedule. Then I walk back into the driller’s cabin.
“So now my brother-in-law is walking around the woods with the light, looking for that damn thing…” I walk over to the coffee maker and pour myself a cup. It’s going to be another long night and there’s no crew change for me any time soon.
I’m fond of saying, especially after the commission of a technical or mathematical mistake, that I can’t really be held accountable because I am a graduate of the Mississippi public school system. This usually gets a laugh, and more importantly, me off the hook. But it is not entirely true, as I am not completely inept. The discovery of algebra derailed my plans to be an architect, but I can perform basic math calculations with no problems. This is why the coming year fills me with dread. On the horizon is the big five-oh.
In the not-so-distant past, the average human life expectancy was 35 years, or so, depending whether one lived in close proximity to bears, or native peoples who were pissed off to have been forcefully evicted from their very existence. There wasn’t much time to contemplate retirement, or yearly vacations down the road. We are lucky today to have longevity. What we do with that time is our responsibility to bear.
Of course this concern is not new. Just as pop music producers know that there is a brand new crop of fourteen year old kids that discover lovelorn angst each year, Madison Avenue has built an entire commercial empire on the fact that each year scores of new people just like me begin to see the arithmetic on the wall. It is no accident that almost every commercial break includes punched up versions of music from Donovan to Sinatra, driving home the sale of financial planning and ED medication with a point as fine as a bowling ball.
Over the past couple of years, I have fallen in love with two songs that deal with turning fifty. The first was by Rodney Crowell. In his song “Earthbound” he confronts the half-century point with the lines
Last night’s conversation with a real good friend of mine drinking wine
Said fifty years of livin and your worst mistakes forgiven takes time
Then later in the song he nails it with
With each new day that passes I’m in need of thicker glasses but it’s
all O K
Someday I’ll be leaving but I just can’t help believing that it’s not
I have been a Steve Forbert fan since “Romeo’s Tune”, and the subsequently discovered (by me) album “Alive on Arrival”, all happening for me around 1978. He is one of the few singer songwriters who are still making outstanding music after all this time. He recently tackled the issue of chronology with “Thirty More Years”. In it, he sings
The male of this here species lives for eighty years or so
Starts to see the mess he’s made and then it’s time to go….
These lines reflect quite a change in the life expectancy statistics. Today we stay around much longer and generally have the opportunity to create or become part of more mischief. But that is the glass-half-empty way of looking at things. We could also be an integral part of much more good in the world. But Forbert is doubtful in this song, at least.
“The geocentric days are gone and earth is still a sphere
Objects in the mirror may be just as they appear….
We spin around the sun and call each trip we make a year
Thirty more years of this and people, I am out of here
Melancholy is sometimes good art, but doesn’t necessarily translate into popularity, or hit songs, not that Forbert really cares. I love the song for the feeling that it inspires, of autumnal reflection and the grudging confrontation of mortality.
Today, it is said that fifty is the new forty; forty is the new thirty, and so on. Some mornings I feel like seventy when I roll out of bed, but only for a while. I’d like to think that I am that glass-half-full kind of guy, the last of my brothers not to be completely gray yet. But is that a testament to a worry free attitude, or not being smart enough to know that I should be worried?
I’d like to think that I have led an interesting life so far, and unless you know something I don’t, I hope to continue on as such. Eighty may be a long way off, but fifty’s coming. Let’s have a party.