40.

I know, I know: “All the best pics are on Instagram, follow the link, etc.”

(But truth be told, they are.)

So I had my birthday about a week ago. My 40th, as a matter of fact. I suppose that I could have done it in Las Vegas. Then again, I wanted to avoid any police boat situations again. So I chose to go back to Texas for this one.

I’ve learned a few things from my trip, about myself, and travel in general, and wanted to share them with you, o’ gentle reader.

Travelocity sucks. Booked a car for the week for $250, and once we reached the airport and waited a stupidly long line to speak to a representative, I was gobsmacked to find that Dollar wanted a $537 deposit on the car… something that Travelocity neglected to mention. You know, you book something on line, pay the taxes and fees, you kind of expect that to be it. So I called Travelocity, and told them to cancel, which they refused. They wanted to speak to a manager and get a full explanation before they would even consider a refund. Even with the Dollar representative, they needed a full explanation of why I wanted to cancel, and as this went back and forth fighting with both of us, I realized that I was still going to need a car, and told them to hold on a minute until I get this sorted out. To that, they put me on hold, and suddenly had no problem cancelling the car. Better yet, they couldn’t book me a new car as their customer service was based in India, and they were a day ahead of us. So in leaving me with nothing, they wished me best of luck in finding a new car and promptly hung up.

At least I got my money back….

My sister’s house was a much better experience. Hung out with the kids, “educated” my nephew on the fineries of classic video gaming, caught up with my sister…. The next day, we went to the Dallas World Aquarium, one of my old favorite places, and significantly expanded out since last visit. It’s perhaps one of the most impressive aquariums that I have ever been to. So in killing a few hours there, it was time for a brief stop to Northpark Mall to reminisce, and then on route to Corsicana.

Hard to believe it was almost exactly a year since my last visit. I of course had to sample to regional foods of Collin Street Bakery and Old Mexican Inn with a dinner in mind (orange dip courses through my veins), and then a trip to the cemetery to visit my parents. I handled that better… or as well as one can, wanting to visit my parents and grandparents before my birthday. After a few moments, we drove around town.

I found myself at Navarro College where my Dad taught. The main building hasn’t changed since I was a kid, and Jen and I walked around campus. The night was beautiful, and I shared stories of growing up on campus, my own college hijinks, and remembering Dad. For the first time, I felt at home with my little town again. The town is small and a little different, and I’ll never understand the logic of turning Cinema IV into a church (but I guess that goes in line with the first Taco Shop, Fullerton’s Grocery Store, and the original K-Mart), but I spent my time more fondly. I had been, overall, happy there. My family and friends, my first venture into the world of video gaming, too many pranks enacted, and movies watched. The time has passed, but the time was mine.

We drove by Dad’s, then went back to the Dallas area.

The next day was my birthday party. I usually plan these things every year, but outside of the invites and the venue, I let Jen and my sister handle everything. I wanted to be as hands off as possible.

When I pulled into the restaurant, I was a greeted by a lot of friendly faces….

Reunited.

Reunited.

There were a lot of faces, a lot of hugs and laughter, a Star Wars themed birthday party, and to say that I was touched by everyone being there was an understatement. The thing is with that group of friends is that no matter how much time has passed, it all feels the same. We lock into our very comfortable places, and go on like we saw each other the day before.

Gifts....

Gifts….

Reflecting....

Reflecting….

And I needed that.

I looked around the table and couldn’t have asked for a better gift. The sister and missus had outdone themselves. Even my friends went above and beyone. Danny dressed as 2015-era Marty McFly and gave me the Lego Dimensions Back to the Future set. But the presents and the showmanship were fun, though my favorite gift was simply this:

Family....

Family….

A few of us decided to meet in Deep Ellum, as I wanted to relive some of our early hoodlum days. We sat at a little bar, ordered drinks, and just caught up. The in-bar radio played a medley of 1990-era music. It was like we never left.

The old gang.

The old gang.

Jen and I walked around Deep Ellum as the group dispersed. Everything felt… natural. I felt more “me” than I have in a long time, and that’s had me thinking about larger things. During the walk, Jen went back to the car, and as I snapped a picture, a homeless guy came up to me, wanting to give me a shirt he had as it matched my shoes. And so, Cedric the homeless guy wandered off as quickly as he appeared, leaving me more amused than anything that, as far as random goes, I still haven’t lost my touch.

Cedric's Gift

Cedric’s Gift

The next day, Jen and I began our drive to Pensacola. I wish there were epic tales to be told, but the truth is that it was just a long drive. However, if you ever find yourself passing through Natchitoches, Louisiana, I highly recommend Lasyone’s meat pies. It probably explains the church across the street, as those pies were sinful.

But we made it to Florida that night, and after a meal at Flounder’s and a brief walk on the beach, we got ready for the next day.

My birthday was here.

We got up, went to Toys R Us (What… I had gift cards)….

I ran with the birthday theme.

I ran with the birthday theme.

Had oysters for breakfast, went back to the beach, and Jen dropped her other gift on me.

Parasailing.

I believe I can fly....

I believe I can fly….

So I took to the air, and soared over the bay. They dunked us in the water at the end, and that was awesome.

As we got ready for the next adventure, the “neighbors” in the hotel noted that I looked happy, and wished me happy birthday. I told them about my time growing up in Pensacola, and how I loved this town. “You know, if you come here enough, you one day find that you’ll never want to leave again.”

I paused for a moment, taking the comment in. Other thoughts have been contemplating. And while this is not saying that I’m doing anything either way, I do find that in time, I tend to go where my feet take me.

For dinner, my sister’s other gift was used: Dinner at the Fish House. I’ve watched an Emeril special where he went on and on about the place’s grits a ya ya, and those things are stupidly good. I ruined that plate, with a key lime pie for dessert.

As the sun set, we returned to the beach. Jen and I walked hand in hand watching the sun go down as the clock turned me 40. I couldn’t have asked for a better or more perfect day. We went Downtown for a while, and then went to bed early to watch the sun rise.

Morning in Pensacola.

Morning in Pensacola.

No filter needed.

No filter needed.

We explored Fort Pickens, ate at McGuire’s Irish Pub (where you can staple a dollar to the ceiling to add to the already over a million dollars stuck there), and then on to New Orleans.

We wandered Bourbon Street, drank absinthe in a pirate bar, and watched street performers. As October was looming, Halloween items were already filling the streets, and mini parades were throwing all sorts of goodies onto the streets.

The next day was shopping, eating, going to this amazing place called Dooky Chase’s for fried chicken (go ahead and chuckle at the name. Their chicken and gumbo are to die for). All I can say is “Damn”.

As night drew near, we booked a vampire tour. While Interview With the Vampire is mentioned, the tour focuses on the real bloodsuckers and psychopaths of New Orleans: Some crazy, dark stories are covered.

IMG_5553

Including this place:

Ursuline Convent.

Ursuline Convent.

The Ursuline Convent. This gave the most relatable story that I heard (minus the author’s personal side story at the bottom), but holy crap, that’s a story to get your skin crawling and the imagination flowing.

Fun tour, though. And our guide was fantastic.

Our vampire storytelling guide.

Our vampire storytelling guide.

The next day led us deep into the bayous and swamps of Louisiana. The bus ride had some issues, as these European (German, from what I could make of the accents) were incredibly rude and talking over the tour guide as we made our way to the docks. When we got there (after a 45 minute drive), they were furious once they realized that they got on the bus for the wrong tour, and couldn’t go. I nearly fell off the boat laughing so hard, as karma is fun!

But we cruised out for adventure.

No Bayou Billy in sight.

No Bayou Billy in sight.

And those swamps had a few gators lurking about, trolling for food.

They apparently like squeak toys.

They apparently like squeak toys.

I even got to hold one of the little ones.

Rollergator in training.

Rollergator in training.

The rest of the day was spent shopping, eating and drinking. I ate some gator for dinner. Does that make me a bad person?

In any case, it was time to drive back to Texas the next day, where we joined my sister’s family and Toby for some Texas barbecue, and then a trip to a specialty Gamestop.

With the last day having arrived, we cleaned our rental car, and after our good-byes, made our way to the airport. Another travel tip: Don’t ever trust MapQuest’s mobile app. It decided that the car rental place was in a residential neighborhood, and after correcting that hot mess, we made it to our plane with 10 minutes to spare.

So, back in Vegas, and all that comes with it. I’m still unpacking. I’m still sorting out travel stuff, and I have a few new stories that I want to write. This trip was very creatively inspiring to me, so I want to actually sit down and write something a little unique. I was very grateful for my family and friends and Jen. They put on the best birthday that I have honestly ever had. When I hit 40, I wanted to define what it was going to mean for me, and I wanted to do it on my terms. “Set the tone”, as it were. And maybe I expect a lot from my travel plans, but the results are never disappointing. I feel better than I have in a long time, and I have a lot of people to thank for that.

So… “Thank you”. I am truly grateful.

Reunions.

While my intentions were to write this once I got back from my last trip… it’s been a trying week and a half since my return. But since I have a few free moments, I thought I would write about the second “homecoming” that I’ve had this year.

My 20th anniversary high school reunion happened this month. Just staring at those words seems surreal. It doesn’t seem like two decades have passed, and yet, there is no way that I could have crammed in the last two decades worth of experiences in on your average Tuesday. Even for me, that’s a stretch.

That’s not to say that getting to this point wasn’t a challenge in itself, as I had to work to ensure that I’d actually get the time at all over the last five months. While not the way I generally prefer to do things, it did all work out in the end.

I am a “Class of ’94″ graduate. I lived in my hometown of Corsicana. I would like to think that I got along well with everyone during those early years. At least, I didn’t have any notable problems or any “school bully” trope that I had to deal with through several years worth of therapy. But I also realize that I was very much my own individual. While liked, I wasn’t really invited to parties, or events, or to hang out in the larger social circles. That’s not to say that I didn’t have friends. I had great friends that I spent days with riding on 4-wheelers, or “mudding” in trucks, building fully decked out clubhouses with full running electricity and heating and A/C, and a zipline over a creek that separated our two yards. I played video games, collected comics, and didn’t listen to country music. I was shy, and never found a girl to date, or went to homecoming or prom.

Those who really knew me would sit together and create comics and other assorted artwork, and kept each ourselves busy with poking fun at life in general, and pulling all sorts of ridiculous stunts and pranks. Most people probably didn’t realize that I had a lot of issues going on at home, how my Mother and I didn’t always see eye to eye, or the fact that she nearly died during my Sophomore year.

My Senior year.

My Senior year.

When it came time for my class to graduate, most went off to college, or the military, or just simply moved away to other cities. And I stayed behind, going to our local junior college where my Dad taught. And for me, everything began to change. I moved in and out of my parents house so often that they could have put a revolving door on the place. I started dating. And one day, I answered an ad for our local video game company in town to test a game. While people graduated, got married, and had kids, I played Doom and Mortal Kombat 3 on a professional level. It was also around that time that Mom had gotten cancer and died in 1996.

And yet I stayed in Corsicana, a professional “joystick jockey” that turned those days that I conveniently came down with a “mysterious illness” whenever a new Nintendo game was released into a full-time career. I had great friends, and we were larger pranksters and adventurers than ever before. I terrorized drive-thrus and tennis courts and bachelorette parties dressed as Sub-Zero. I started meeting a lot of sci-fiction and action film actors. I eventually moved to Denton to go to UNT. I still worked in the video game industry in Dallas, and worked for one of the local film festivals….

And then 9/11 happened.

With my job lost, Dad getting re-married, and my heart broken from a girl I had fallen for at the time, I decided it was time for a change. And San Diego called my name. I was still in the gaming scene, but the industry was changing, and whether I was no longer a match for the industry that I loved, or had just simply overstayed my welcome, a new career path began to form. I moved to Los Angeles to become an actor.

Everything happened so fast. Too fast, in some ways. I worked between L.A. and San Diego in numerous films and televisions shows. I met a litany of incredible people, many of which were people I had idolized. I met Jen. The San Diego industry dried up in 2007, and I was ready for another change. This time, it turned out that Las Vegas was calling me over.

My time was spent either freelance writing, or acting. Dad passed in 2008, also from cancer. I ended up with our house a few years later, thanks to his help. I began working closer with music and film personalities, everything from Miss Universe to the Academy of Country Music Awards (oh, the irony). It was such a long ways from where I had started in my small town. And yet there I was, set to find myself back where I started 20 years later.

It’s hard coming back to where it all began. Not because I don’t enjoy my hometown. Far from it. But it’s almost a museum to a life that I once had, but can’t really return to anymore. My parents are gone. Most of my favorite places that I grew up with are either closed down or turned into churches (Cinema IV managed to be converted into a church? Really?). The local newspaper doesn’t always paint a pretty picture of the state of affairs there, sometimes seeming far from the quiet town I once knew. But I knew that I had to return for this.

The drive was long. Jen and I trudged over 17 hours worth of driving to make “good time”, barely sleeping in a motel off of Route 66 (at a motel called the Sands that featured the “Elvis Room” – A room full of various Elvis stock photos and his marriage license, which they somehow procured), and over at my sister’s, where her strange dog paced the floor ALL NIGHT LONG making weird Chewbacca “hooting” noises. We ate dinner with the family and Danny before we made the next leg of our journey. I was crazed from lack of sleep that Friday morning before the football game and post-mixer. Our hotel in Corsicana was a dump that smelled of mildew and likely had the cast from Deliverance plucking banjos out in those backwoods behind that place. It was a stark reminder that the days and nights of staying at Dad’s for my stays are long since over.

I had forgotten Friday night high school football. No, Texas Friday night high school football. They’ve built a new stadium since my academic days there, and the lights could easily rival any casino out of Las Vegas.

Football in Spaaaaaaaaaace!

Football in Spaaaaaaaaaace!

But after wandering all over the stadium, with no one knowing where my class was located, Jen and I eventually found a group of familiar faces.

Familiarity rings true.

Familiarity rings true.

And there I was, talking to a group of people I had spent almost my entire life growing up with, and yet being reintroduced to. The strangest part for me was that I remembered all of these faces as still being 18-year old kids. Modernizing an entire section of my past to the present day took some getting used to, but it was pleasant, and enjoyable falling back into some old familiar patterns. I don’t have as many links to my past as I used to. Finding that sense of connection tends to be more than invaluable to me these days.

We went to a small bar in Corsicana (also getting used to the idea that Corsicana has bars, considering that they used to be a “dry” town), where I continued to catch up, boast about our wayward youths, and take photos. It was nice hearing how everyone had grown up and had their own lives and careers and experiences. Toby showed up to crash the event, and we drove around the town for a bit updating me on all the changes that have taken place before we called it a night.

In true '90's fashion, I summoned my best "Kids In The Hall" by "crushing their heads".

In true ’90′s fashion, I summoned my best “Kids In The Hall” by “crushing their heads”.

The next morning, Jen and I began our day at the cemetery to pay respects to my parents. I haven’t been these since 2009, and the feeling of my family residing in a small space in the ground these days hit me so much harder than it has in a while since it was now right there in front of me. 20 years ago, they were seeing me through my Senior year. Today, I placed a bouquet of flowers onto a space to remember them. I let myself have some time before I began the next phase of this revisitation, and that was going back to high school.

The old(?) alma matter.

The old(?) alma matter.

Candidly, my high school weirds me out these days. Not due to any latent trauma resurfacing, as it’s more the fact that they built another high school around the existing high school. So what I remembered from my youth is essentially covered in a hard candy shell. To coin the popular phrase as I tied to wrap my head around this concept truly was a moment of “I can’t even”. And oh my God, so many gyms. There were probably gyms built into the bathrooms at this point, and I wouldn’t have been surprised.

Once we got into the areas of the school that I actually knew about, the tour took a far more familiar, yet surreal turn. Again, mildly stunned by all the changes, but it was almost like nothing changed. Someone brought a copy of an old newspaper with our Senior predictions, and I saw mine: Apparently, I was going to find my way to fame and fortune due to my demented sense of humor.

Pfft. Like that would actually happen….

At least the Tiger was familiar....

At least the Tiger was familiar….

I spent a little more time driving around town, trying to acclimate to just… everything. Blockbuster is a title loan store. Movieland is a scapbooking store. I don’t even know what exactly went down with our former mall. Still, places like Old Mexican Inn with it’s legendary “orange dip” remained the same, and Jen, John, and I had a nostalgia-laden lunch there. I also took my own private journey to reminisce through Corsicana, past old homes, old work places, where Dad taught… and I was kind of taken by some of the simple beauty of the little town. You forget cool breezes, and tree-lined streets, and the way the sky looks and how trains sound in the distance. So different from the light-up casino and desert environment that I live in now. I paused for a moment to really take it in. So much has changed, but the “feel” still holds true. For the first time on the “go go go” schedule this trip had been, I found a moment to relax a little. But it was time to get ready for the main dinner.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to my hometown’s country club before. I don’t know how that came about, but there you are. But I found it a good spot for everyone to meet. The atmosphere was a lot of fun. I was able to reunite with more people that hadn’t shown to the previous events where we shared more stories, and I got a chance to really talk. Trying to get back into sync with a group of people you haven’t seen in 20 years over a series of nostalgic and/or loud venues was a bit of a stimulus overload before, but this worked.

I swear that I don't have a drinking problem....

I swear that I don’t have a drinking problem….

Dinner was good, people danced (and threw me money as I do so – perhaps taking that “Vegas Entertainment” aspect seriously), and I got to bust out “Love Shack” with a few of the girls as my backup singers – I’m not going to lie: This was a dream come true. I’ve wanted to do that song for forever with backup singers, and who better than with the people that I shared all the best of my teen angst with? Lightning could strike me now, and I could honestly say “I’m good.”

Photo originally taken by James Roberts.

Photo originally taken by James Roberts.

And like that, my reunion was over. My brush with high school came to a close. And yet….

Jen and I made one last stop before we returned to the hotel. We drove to my old home and stopped just outside the driveway. Unlike all of those events and get-togethers that I had done in my high school days, this would be one time where I could not go through those doors now… or ever again. It had been a house of so many things, but at the end of the day, it was where I had once belonged. I think that what any of us had wanted when we were teens: To simply be accepted. To find where we were at “home”. I reflected on that time in my life… the people that were a part of that history, and for one more night, I had a small reminder of a far gentler and uncomplicated history. Bittersweet that so long a time has passed, but grateful for that moment at all, and the people that provided it that one final night. I was barely aware that I had teared up as I said my silent good-bye, then drove back to get ready for the long trip ahead that next morning.

That next day (after stocking up on some much-needed Texas food supplies), I drove back to my sister’s to say good-bye to the family. Jen talked with my sister as I tried to convince the kids that leg wrestling was a brilliant idea, and what could possibly go wrong. Again, far too brief a time, but I had family in my life, and it left me ready to go back to my life in Vegas.

The trip was long and boring, perhaps a lot to think about, but I left with a sense of closure and fondness for a world that I rarely get to revisit, but had loved so dearly.

I was ready to go back home.

Keep Looking Up….

“Keep looking up, because that’s where it all is.”

Even though I’m no longer a part of my original Texas home, I still have ties to it.

Family and friends, of course, but I still love cherry ice box cookies from Collin Street Bakery, the infamous “Orange Dip” from Old Mexican Inn, for a while I subscribed to Texas Monthly, my nightly weekend romps through Deep Ellum, and of course on my early morning drives, there was Kidd Kraddick in the Morning.

This last Saturday, Kidd Kraddick died from enlarged heart complications. While the death itself was sudden and unexpected, the reason itself wasn’t, as finding out that he had a big heart wasn’t a surprise to me at all.

I started listening to Kidd in middle school, then high school, then college, then as a young adult. It was his show that broke the initial 9/11 attacks to me as I was driving that morning to work at MumboJumbo. When I moved to California, I found his syndicated show while living in Los Angeles in 2004. That part of my life was a tough spot for me back then, so hearing a familiar voice was comforting at the time. He was a genuinely funny and well-meaning person. Sure, he did goofy pranks and voices with his crew, but he also took sick kids to Walt Disney World every year, and held charity benefit concerts, and helped struggling people out during Christmas when they didn’t have a chance to provide any sort of tangible Christmas for their families. He just did things because it was the right thing to do, and his spirit was both touching and admirable.

He died in New Orleans this last weekend during a golf charity event to raise money for children, so he passed on doing what he loved. I first heard about this via one of my friends on Facebook, and later confirmed the story through another news friend. Despite the two hour time difference between here and Texas, I found myself waking up (before 5 A.M., no less, which is impossible for me) yesterday morning to listen to that first morning show without Kidd there, if anything to provide silent support and comfort to his co-hosts Kellie, Big Al, and the others.

There’s been an unshakable sadness regarding his death. I never met him, but he was so open and personable, you couldn’t help but feel like you knew him. He was a Texas staple, a link to my childhood and young adult years, and that link breaking affected me more than expected. Being that I’m a Humanist, I admired his way to make the world better through his actions. He brought happiness, laughter, and comfort to others simply because he wanted to. It’s what made him happy, and it showed. And the last few days have been a period of reflection and reevaluation for me. You get so used to certain things in your life, and when they’re gone, it can’t help but give you pause. He was one of the few celebrities I knew of that truly used his influence and talent to promote positive change.

I will miss him on my drives back to Texas. His presence was such a major part of my morning commutes anywhere. I hope that his charitable works continue on through his remarkable morning crew and that, when the tears subside, they find a will and way to ensure that “the show must go on”. But for now, I send my sympathies and condolences to his family and radio family, the “friends I never met, but still somehow know”.

Thanks for being such a positive human being, Kidd, and a friend all the same.

David Peter "Kidd Kraddick" Cradick.

David Peter “Kidd Kraddick” Cradick.

You Never Forget The Grand Canyon.

With The Experience gone as one of the last quirky bars in Las Vegas (I suppose the Rainforest Cafe still counts), it was only a matter of time before someone else tried to fill in that niche.

Enter the Sci-Fi Cafe.

Envisioned by a very generous couple by the names of Suzy and Robert, it was going to be a dinner theater style dining experience with sci-fi elements and “guest stars” from Star Trek. I auditioned for and landed the role of the host, and was going to be writing some of the skits for the ever-evolving characters.

I didn’t have much time to focus on this at the time, as I was doing an overnight shoot for The Hangover at the Riviera. That scene where the characters were trying to win big at one of the tables, and Heather Graham fell out of her chair. While all-night shoots are just part of the filmmaking process at times, it’s the leading into that next day that ruins one’s sleep schedule.

Again, I didn’t have much time to focus. I was planning a trip back to Texas at the end of the month. With the house sold, it was time to collect my pieces from Dad’s estate, a trip that I wasn’t looking forward to.

I took time to break up this impending trip by being introduced to even more of Vegas’ culture of geekery: The Age of Chivalry Renaissance Festival.

Where else can you run around screaming “Huzzah!” while ingesting freakishly huge turkey legs and mugs full of mead? Far too few places. Just far too few places. It was fun, of course, and full of the usual oddities that make up such festivals:

Everyone loves monkeys with hats.

Everyone loves monkeys with hats.

And pirate ships.

And pirate ships.

And giant tree people.

And giant tree people.

All of it, of course, was to put off what I no longer could: Going “home” for the last time. And that day had come.

For the first time in eight months, I walked back into the house that had been my childhood home for so many years. Things were being packed into boxes, but it was still very much the same place that I had known. My friends, Danny, Toby, and John were with me as I walked through a home that no longer was. So many holidays, and life events, and friends and family and loved ones all came rushing to me as I stepped through the door, and then walking into the room where he had passed that cold February morning. My friends gave me a moment to compose my grieving as I loaded the last of the things into the truck, took one last look, and said good-bye.

The last good-bye.

The last good-bye.

I had all of these ideas of visiting the places I grew up with, the places that my friends and I spent our “misbegotten youths” of playing hackey sack on tennis courts, or filming “documentaries” of life in our small town, but ultimately, I just wanted food, and a stop to this coffee shop called Two Doors Down.

Coffee shop bookcases.

Coffee shop bookcases.

The shop had the street blocked off so people could watch The King & I in the middle of the street, and it made me smile that there was still something of an art scene left in my little town.

We had parked the moving truck at the house before dinner as it’s huge and unwieldy in parking spots. John dropped me off to say good-bye. I took my last look at the house, before I entered the truck, and got inside. As I turned the key to start the truck, I stopped. “No”, I thought. “There’s one more thing that I have to do.”

I walked through the front yard up to my favorite sitting wall, ever since I was 9 years old. I climbed up there, and looked at the stars as I’ve done for so many years. In the distance, the low, mournful wail of a train sounded in the distance, as it had so many times in the past. I closed my eyes, taking in the sound of the train, the wind, and the chirping crickets. I needed to remember. I had to take this with me. And so I sat on my wall. One last time, knowing that this is the final time I would ever look at the sky this way, and be in this moment. And as I slid off the wall, I gave one last silent farewell to 2508 Butler Drive, my home for 24 years, and felt the finality of knowing that I will never pass this way again.

I spent the rest of my trip in the company of my sister and her family, catching up, talking, before Toby and I got ready to return to Vegas.

The sibling and I.

The sibling and I.

The trip was fairly nondescript. A lot of driving through West Texas, which if one has made that drive, then it’s understood how long, tedious, and barren it is.

Along the way through Arizona, a detour for the Grand Canyon was offered. Considering that Toby and I had never been, and a break from driving was greatly needed, we took the side trip, driving this big Budget rental truck through the gates. Outside, it was freezing, but the view was spectacular.

Just moments before....

Just moments before….

For those not familiar with me, I have something that might be considered a “condition”, or just simply a “weird magnet”. In any case, my friends from Texas, California and Vegas have all put a name to this phenomenon, calling it “The Guy Chapman Effect”. Basically, I have a habit of stumbling across weird people, events, and locations that result in stories that no one would otherwise believe. It’s the same effect, that within proximity of me, people get dragged into events that they normally wouldn’t experience otherwise. It can go either way: Either really good, or extremely weird.

This was a case of the latter….

Toby and I were walking along a pathway, when we noticed a medium sized black duffel bag next to a ledge. Post-2001 common sense/fear of the unknown does make one mistrustful of unattended bags, especially in a public place, but we investigated anyway.

We long deliberated in not touching the bag, calling out for the owner instead. When no one came, we decided to check the contents of the bag to perhaps find some contact information.

Inside was a change of clothes, a bar of soap, some glasses, a book on playing cards, a one way bus ticket from Tucson to the Grand Canyon, three unopened beers, and two empty beer cans. An odd selection to be left by the side of a very high cliff, but we both agreed to take it to a station for Lost and Found.

We brought the bag into the nearby museum, where we presented our findings to the staff and a ranger. They looked worried when we mentioned the beer. “Show me where you found this”, the staff person said, so we did. She said she hoped it wasn’t what she feared this meant, and upon pressing her, I discovered that a LOT of people fall off the ledges of the Grand Canyon. We were asked to keep what we knew quiet.

You know how you see most Grand Canyon pictures of people leaning against some railing? In reality, those railings are few and far between, and the potential to fall is very real, and if you do, you can’t see the bottom in some areas, as there’s no way that any sane person would step close to some of those ledges. Grand Canyon suicides and accidental fallings are very common out there.

What turned into a simple side vacation became a full blown investigation, and we became directly involved in the search and details. We had to go back to the station to fill out paperwork of what we saw. As we did this, a helicopter whizzed by us, hovering in the area where we found the bag.

A larger crowd began to form, and somehow the people knew what was going on. “It seems two hikers found a backpack on that ridge over there”, one tourist said. “It wasn’t a backpack. It was a duffel bag”, Toby said. The crowd turned to face us. “How would you know that”, someone else shot at us like we should be just as in the dark as everyone else. “Because we’re the ones who found the bag”, I replied. I hadn’t even finished the sentence before the people got wide eyed silent, then started talking among themselves, giving us these unusual sidelong glances. The helicopter roared through the cavern again, and the ranger’s radio crackled. He got something in code, and replied back in turn. “What that means is ‘Yes’”, he said solemnly to us to let us know without a doubt as to what happened, thanked us, and walked back to the station.

Turns out, Toby and I were the first to discover and report the duffel bag minutes after some lost soul made a one way trip out there, and decided to commit suicide by jumping to his death off the Grand Canyon. Some tourist with a thick German accent actually found the body smashed against the rocks, and pointed it out, but I couldn’t see it that well, and didn’t want to after the description. Apparently, we just got there minutes after the jump. We walked back to our rental truck and left the park, having ended up not taking a mini-vacation, but ended up solving a suicide case. The story made the local paper, and while I later learned the identity of the victim, I’ll never reveal it here, as it would be weird to announce that my friend and I were the discover of some loved one’s body.

At least the following drive through the Hoover Dam was far quieter.

Hoover Dam.

Hoover Dam.

To say that we just needed some quiet downtime on Fremont Street with friends was an understatement:

Me, Christie, Toby, Shannon.

Me, Christie, Toby, Shannon.

Toby stayed for a few days, and the only thing left was Halloween. I of course, used an old familiar stand-by:

Spiderween.

Spiderween.

The Return Home.

The final night in my childhood home found me on my “sitting wall”. A wall that I used to stretch out on as a kid to look up at the night sky. It seemed only fitting to sit up there for what may have been my last time before traveling to my sister’s, where it began to snow. I thought about the time with family and friends, a moment where it felt like over half of my personal history all came together in one moment to unite for my Dad’s memory. It was one of the few things that gave me comfort during the time. That’s nothing to say of the return home.

When I got to the airport, I got a call from one of my co-workers: The company I had been working at had been shut down. Busted by the FDA for selling a fraudulent product (among many of their products were pills you could take to “stop being gay”. Because that’s exactly how that situation works), and the company owner had been thrown in jail. The irony that I was returning to Vegas as an unemployed orphan was a hard pill to swallow (though I hope it hadn’t come from that particular company). At least I had my little family unit to return to.

And some things did pick up, in a weird way. While the company bounced my final paycheck a few times, they did have a heart in light of my recent news and pay me (others weren’t so lucky). My show review career began here with a showing of Spamalot at the Wynn, and I had to drive to Los Angeles to do a voice-over for a video game that was in the works (come to think of it, I don’t think it ever came out).

But basically, it was just… dealing. The will was read, my show review got published, and I was just there to pick up the pieces. It wasn’t how I envisioned life in Las Vegas at all, and none of what was going on, had anything to do with the city. I was still so new to the city, and I hadn’t any time to go out and explore or make friends. Being unemployed at that time was simply an unlucky deal, and I hoped that things would turn around.

And I suppose, in a “Monkey’s Paw” sort of way, it did….

Second Star To The Right….

Despite the odd nature and background of the job, my co-workers were incredibly supportive during that time.

That’s nothing to be said of my friends, both “real world” and online, a lifetime of relationships that helped to fund my need to get back to Texas. While I had many generous friends and beloved relationships contribute to my journey back, one of the standout contributions came from Arts Fighting Cancer.

Def2K

In my time, back in 2000-2001, it was known as the Deep Ellum Film Festival, based out of Deep Ellum in Dallas. This neighborhood was a second home to my friends and I, full of artists and musicians, creative geniuses and madmen. The festival itself was run by Michael Cain and Melina McKinnon, wonderful people that I had built a lifelong friendship with. The festival itself was based around raising money to directly help cancer victims and their families cover costs and more human needs. I joined out of belief for the cause after my Mother died. I hadn’t considered that I would have to one day come to them for help myself.

But they did, and they were remarkable in helping me get home.

Meanwhile in Vegas (seeing how this is still a blog about Vegas), the family unit and I were trying to plan a trip for Dad to visit here. I even took it upon myself to contact a few venues on the Strip to see if we could do some special things for them. The managers and hosts were accommodating, and plans were being discussed, but I had to go to Texas first.

And the airport sucks.

Making my way past the slot machines in the airport (yes, they have them there too so lucky tourists can feed the local economy), I effortlessly made my way to my plane. I was all ready to go, buckled in, Nintendo DS and journal in hand, let’s do this!

“We’re sorry to inform you that due to engine technical difficulties, Flight 1150 is now out of service”, the captain says. “Please go to Baggage Claim 3 to get your luggage.”

So while walking over there, I call American Airlines and tell them what happened, and that I must go to Dallas today. They book me an 11:25 flight on US Airways.

Then the Hell started.

The luggage wasn’t appearing at Baggage Claim 3. 45 minutes pass, and this surly baggage manager finally opens her office. “The baggage hasn’t come”, the guy in front of me says. “I’m not on the clock. Not my problem.” Even when she does clock in, her answer doesn’t change.

20 minutes later, I go to her again, and she seems so annoyed that I would dare to bother her when standing behind a counter looking sulky is such a time intensive task.

“Fine”, she says, and the baggage carousel comes on. For two flights.

So the baggage is coming, tumbling out, crushing other suitcases, falling on the ground, until it finally backed up and jammed with luggage. We tell her about it, and again, “Not my problem”.

Finally, she sighs, turns off the carousel, and walks away.

“What about the rest of the luggage”, someone asks her. “The carousel’s full, and I can’t do anything if it’s full like that, and no more luggage can come out until it’s cleared out.”

(A shiny new quarter will be given to the person who guesses what she said next about whether or not it was of a concerning nature to her.)

“We’re going to be late for our flights”, some business guy shot at her. “Well, go book your flights, then”, she said, addressing us. “We’ll forward you your luggage.”

“Like Hell you will”, I snapped at her. I was totally pissed off at this point.

She shrugged carelessly. “I’m not turning it on until the luggage is cleared.”

So the passengers of flight 1150 sprung into action.

Every single piece of luggage was removed from the carousel by every man woman and child, our flight or not.

“We want our luggage”, some guy yelled.

She got on the intercom and said “The remaining flight 1150 luggage will now be re-routed to carousel 2″.

I called American Airlines customer service and exploded.

I finally got my luggage in mid-scream, and made my way to the new security gate (that’s right: I had to redo the entire process all over again).

I called my sister and updated my flight info. And then I stepped up to security.

They snatched my boarding pass and circled it.

“You have been selected for a security screening. Please step into this separate hallway.”

They pointed me to this hallway in a separate area.

“Oh, Jesus-shit-fuck”, I moaned in exasperation, conveying the most wearied look I could possibly muster.

So I went into the hallway, and stripped down, had to get into a machine, where they shot ionized air at me. They went through every item I had in my bag, spraying it, wiping it down (I’m glad they didn’t decide to read my journal). And the only reason I got them to stand down on me is that one of the neighboring security people saw that I had a Nintendo DS, and wanted to talk shop with me, which relaxed the guy in front of me.

When I left, I realized that they had kept one of my gloves, so I had to go back.

Don’t even get me started about the next flight’s delay.

Despite being late, I met my Uncle and Dad, the latter being in remarkably good spirits. After a quick dinner, we went home.

Home

It was a nice weekend, all things considered. Dad was weak, but in good humor. We talked about “the old days”, and my growing up, and me finally coming clean about all the crazy stunts that I pulled as a kid that Dad would have grounded me for, but just found amusing now.

But it was hard. Because he had gotten so frail since the last Christmas, and the horrible realization began to sink in that these moments were ending. How could they?

The thought became more real as I helped him get into bed the final night of my stay. He chuckled. “You know, when anyone gets sick, I’m usually the one to take care of them.”

I looked at the little man, as he slid under the covers to read his Terry Brooks novel. “Well, the time has come….”, the words failed. I could feel my eyes burning, my breathing tightening. I couldn’t break down. I wouldn’t. I owed him more. I had to be the rock for the moment. I cleared my throat and finished my thought. “…for me to return the favor.”

He smiled at me as he settled. “Good night, Guy”, he said. “Good night, Dad”, I said. As I left the room, he called out “I’ll see you soon.”

The next day, we said our good-bye at the airport, his eyes focusing on me like it would be the last time we would ever see each other again. And I went home.

Dad1

It wasn’t even a week later when I got “The Call”. I was out of money to do a rush trip home, but my friend Danny gave me an advance for a ticket. My other friend Toby picked me up at the airport to drive me home. My other friend John had been keeping an eye on my Dad in my absence.

I got home that night, much to Dad’s surprise. He was still coherent, well humored, but tired. As the night wore on, and the morphine could only do so much, we knew our time was short. He said that I was one of the best friends that he ever had, and after a long night of staying by his side, my sister took over for the morning shift.

I barely slept an hour when it began to happen. I rushed into the room in time to hold his hand, and just… not let go until the final, deafening quiet set in. Our last words to each other were “I love you”.

The remainder of the day was a numb blur of church, the funeral home, visits with the pastor. I was beyond exhausted, and not ready to deal with the changes that come with planning funerals. Death brings out interesting things in people. Sometimes, their absolute best. In others, their absolute worst. It’s bad enough to grieve. It’s even worse having to quell drama during a time like that. But after a long day and nearly 42 hours with no sleep, I awoke to help plan the funeral.

The funeral was, as far as funerals go, serviceable enough, save for some weird person snapping photos during the service. Photos. It’s not a moment that I particularly cared to remember, much less post on Facebook. Being the writer of the family, I was charged with writing the obituary, and delivering the eulogy. Being tired and caught unaware from the entire trip, I had to use one of Dad’s old suits, and completely mismatched the colors, proving without a doubt that I am my Father’s son.

The eulogy read as follows:

“There are no amount of words that could ever summarize a person’s life. Nor could it ever cover the amount of accomplishments both big and small, or how many lives their actions have touched. Someone once said that when you lose someone, it is similar to that of the burning of a library, because the loss takes so much with them.

I can only speak for myself, and hopefully the best I can for those I love and hold dear. I can only know that my Father’s departure from this world has left as big of an impact as it did when he came in. I know that my Father, as a teacher both in education, and in the lessons of life, had the power to change the lives of those around him.

Jim Chapman had that gift. He not only fulfilled his role of being a Father to the best of his abilities, but he also provided the roles of a mentor, a practical joker, a brother, a great intellectual, a child at heart and in spirit, and most importantly, that of the closest friend anyone could wish for. My Dad was my best friend, and the greatest love of my life.

He took pride and enthusiasm in every role he was ever asked to play, none more so than that of Grandfather. His love for his grandchildren was only matched in his pride of being their “Dada”, and very few things in life could ever light up his eyes the way those children could. His love for them will prove to last several lifetimes to come.

His children, he left a lifetime of laughter and fond memories that will also remind us to keep a smile on our faces, the will to continue on through difficult times, and his playful nature in our hearts. He took on the roles of both parents with the passing of our beautiful Mother, his soulmate, so many years ago, and performed that job better than anyone could have ever asked for.

His love also transcended beyond family into his friendships, with so many that he treated not only as peers, but as his brothers and sisters. None loved the debates and insights he would carry on with his friends more than he did, and he was blessed for having so many true and loyal friends who loved him equally in return.

With the loss of this man that my sister and I have known as our Father for so many years, comes the realization that the lights that make up our universe seem to have been blown out from the sky. Our Father was one of the most amazing and intelligent people we have ever known. A gentle dreamer and loving soul that gave so much to make the loves in his life happy, and as a result, became a hero that will forever be honored. My Dad was a beautiful artist who painted a portrait of life that will hang in the gallery of our hearts forever.

In these final thoughts, it is not my Father that I think of, but of myself, my family, and those who must go on without him. His absence will be a spot that can never be filled, and as C.S. Lewis once said: “The pain now is part of the happiness then”. And while that vacancy of space remains in our lives, the legacy of the love he gave will continue to burn like a star to fill that darkened sky once again.

In that regard, we will never truly be without him.”

Dad2

The service ended with my friends Marcus, Danny, Bobby, Toby and myself eating at the local Taco Shop, before a later dinner with family and my friends Danny and Jay. Back at the house, I share a few stories, laughter and tears with my friends as we gathered on the back porch as we always did growing up, before making this comment:

“This story has come to an end. I walk away from my childhood tomorrow as I leave this place for the last time. I’ll still obviously come back of course, and nothing will change with all of us, but I feel a new story is about to begin. I realize now, this is one aspect of my life that I’ll never be able to reopen again, once I walk out that door for the last time.”

The only thing left was to tie up a few loose ends….