Who could forget the fall of 1988? In case you have forgotten, you're more than welcome to borrow my memories.
Picture yourself as a 22 year bicycle racer, jet-lagged and dead broke, stumbling off of a dank greyhound bus and into the dismal midwest drizzle of Iowa City, IA. A day or so ago you were in The Netherlands, and already it is a burned-out memory of slick cobblestones, blaring car horns, hard labor, strange new faces, and culture shock. You rode well enough to earn a spot on a big Dutch trade team for the next season. You think that your sports career is finally, sort-of, taking off. To the dismay and bewilderment of your Dutch sponsors, you turned down a winter job in a tire factory on the outskirts of Amsterdam. You chose instead to go back to the States. You chose to go home. Trouble is, you have no permanent address. So then, what is home exactly? You figure that home is a place where you know every building. Home is a place where you know every street name. Home is a place where your truest friend lives.
You haul a giant red duffel bag out of the guts of the bus. Then you grab a mashed cardboard box with a bicycle jammed inside, a pair of wheels, and a battered five-string guitar. Since you can't afford cab fare, you load your worldly possessions onto your back, grip the bike box by its rotten handle, and begin the long drag across town through cold and grimy mud puddles. Within a block your feet are cold, wet, and squishy. But you don't care. You know exactly where you're going. You know exactly how to get there. You are going to Dogbait's house.
Dogbait has offered you a no-strings flop under the Elvis Shrine. Your bed will be on "The Asthma Couch"--so named because it is so hopelessly impregnated with dust and dander that after a night's sleep on it you wake up with a wheeze--until you can get an off-season job and move into your own place. And for the first time in about a year you are happy.
Who is Dogbait? Tweny years ago, as I drag-assed through town, I thought about this. Dogbait--a.k.a Big R.; a.k.a Randy Dickson--was a fellow cyclist and world traveler. The first time I met Randy, I thought he was a mad pirate on two wheels. He wore an eyepatch (that kept changing eyes), to correct a lazy eye on the mend after a horrific cycling accident. He challenged me to speak up, speak my mind, stand my ground, and be entertaining in the process. He wowed me with the most outrageous personal adventure stories I'd ever heard. He drove a rodded-out British sports car that he built-up himself. He wore a leather jacket festooned with death-skulls. He played the bass. He was Sid Vicious with a college education. He was intimidating. He was funny. He was cool.
But, in the fall of 1988, as I staggered across a footbridge over the Iowa River, I knew this is not why Randy is, and will always be, one of my best friends. Back in the spring of 1986, while out for a ride, I suffered a traumatic, life-threatening head injury. I endured three-odd days of touch-n-go in an ICU, a few more days in a hospital bed, and nine days without eating. I couldn't walk without leaning against a wall. I couldn't read. I couldn't think for the headaches. Yet somehow I survived and completely recovered. Who visited me in the hospital? Who helped me in my time of need? Who saved my life? My only family: My brother, my mother, my father. And my truest friends, with Randy leading the pack.
And now, a full 20 years later, I find myself behind the wheel of an old microbus headed for Sturgeon Bay, WI, thinking about the good old days and looking forward to seeing my old friend. The Asthma Couch and Elvis Shrine may now exist only in memory, but the invitation to flop at Randy's place still stands.
Randy is a man who can handle any number of roles and a mountain of activities with ease and aplomb. He is a devoted father and husband, a hardworking and successful entrepreneur/profesional archaeologist, home owner, carpenter, British sports car enthusiast, epicurean, vintage guns aficionado, and diehard Hawkeye fan.
It goes without saying that Diane and I thoroughly enjoyed a fine long weekend with Randy and his family--his absolutely fantastic wife, Amy, and their thoroughly charming daughter, Claire.
These were the sorts of days I dream about on a long road trip. Early-morning breakfasts in the kitchen with true friends that become late-morning brewfests and monkey wrenching sessions in the garage...
...followed up with afternoons of fun and games on the shooting range...
... that are capped with long and lingering dinners, either beside the backyard grill or out at a favorite restaurant. Dear readers, do not doubt what you are about to behold. This indeed is Randy, insiting on paying the dinner tab--for five--including the tip!
Thank you, Randy. Thank you, Amy. And thank you, too, Claire. Our home is your home, no matter where it might be, any time and always.