Before I start this installment, I have to say, wow, I fully expected at least 164 votes on continuing. But since I only got 163, I’m not so sure I should keep going. I mean really.
Also, I have updated the Questions & Answers page to clarify some things that everyone has been asking so check that out. Let me know if there is anything else that you don’t know about me that is keeping you up at night and I’ll be sure and wait about six months and then put up and answer.
Back to the story…
The first half of the semester went quickly, April and I were together nonstop. Except when we were in class, and even then, we did a lot of skipping in order to hang out. We did a lot of hanging out. Too much actually because our school work began to suffer. I struggled to retain Physics lessons from a professor who could care less and April struggled with Algebra in a class that didn’t have a professor at all. But we had our priorities. Mine just happened to be a six foot blond instead of the building blocks of my chosen profession.
Spring Break was on its way and like any good college freshman, I was making plans that had nothing to do with school. Dad had called a couple weeks before and asked if I wanted to attend my brother’s graduation from photography school. Jody lived in Minneapolis so the trip would be a long one and happened to coincide with the end of my break. I wanted my new love interest to make the trip with me so I could show her off to my family which aided in my singular desire to spend every waking moment with her. We hatched a plan that I would drive my 1982 Toyota Corolla from St. Louis to Goodland, Kansas to pick her up and together we would drive up to Minneapolis. It was a flawless plan. We said our goodbyes with a lot of “I’m missing you already” type fluff. You do a lot of crazy talk when you’re in love. We were disgusting.
I drove home and spent a couple days with Gary and Todd and told Dad the big plans for bringing April to Minnesota. He gave me some vague instructions about seeing everyone up there and wished me a safe journey. About the middle of the week, I packed the car back up and headed west to Goodland and my girl.
Now, the trip from college to my home in St. Charles, Missouri was about 4 1/2 hours on the long side. It was a car ride across the belt of Missouri and except for a few long stretches between towns in the western half of the state, it was a fairly nice drive. The Missouri landscape provides enough valleys, rivers and vistas to keep a bored driver entertained. I left St. Charles with eagerness and excitement, blasted my cassette of The Cure and set off across the rolling hills of the land of my youth.
The first part of the trip was fairly uneventful and six hours later I passed through Topeka and entered the Flint Hills of Kansas. I soon realized that Kansas is not Missouri. Kansas is flat. Really flat. Ridiculously flat. Ludicrously flat. It was my first solo trip across the state and I was finding it a struggle. A long, straight, flat, endless struggle. I have since learned to see the beauty in the long stretches of prairie, the endless miles of cattle fields and the unbounded dome of the sky that pushes down the edges of the horizon like a heavy bowl on a soft pillow. I have been amazed at the parts of Kansas where the nearest neighbor is several miles away but you can still see his front door. I have been humbled by parts of Kansas where you can stand back to back with the edge of the world and be taller but still feel small and insignificant. I have learned to love all of it but at age 19 with the focus of my life at the end of a twelve hour trip, I wasn’t quite seeing the wonder of God’s creation in the Kansas soil.
I passed the Eisenhower Presidential Library, the childhood home of Bob Dole, and the Cathedral of the Plains and eventually made it to Hays before I felt that I needed to stop and talk to the locals to get my bearings. I pulled in at the nearest quick stop and and took a minute to pump life back into my rattled extremities. I pumped gas into the Corolla and I remember thinking, it can’t be more than thirty or forty minutes from here. I’ve been driving for eight hours for chrimenies sake. No one in their right mind would locate a livable town more than 9 hours in any direction from St. Charles, Goodland must be close. I went in the quick shop and asked the gas station employee “So how far am I from Goodland?”
She said, “Oh, not too far…” Excellent! I thought, and then she completed the sentence, “you’re only about three hours away.”
“Ha ha, that’s funny.” I laughed, “I thought that you said three hours. You mean thirty minutes. Right? What?! Are you serious?!” She had an “obviously your new here” look on her face, so I grabbed the large soda and Jujee Fruits off the counter, glared at the gas station gal then slowly turned and walked despondently back to the rolling cage that I called my car.
I look back on that as one of those defining moments in life where you see the curtain pulled back and begin to understand the building blocks of a culture. Western Kansans have a different understanding of space and distance. They don’t talk in terms of the next street or the next block or even the next neighborhood. To them it’s all about counties. You’re constantly hearing comments like “What county are you from?” and “Oh that’s in so-and-so county and that is just north of this county. What? You’ve never been to that county? Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha.” and “I need to go to the outlet mall. It’s in the next county. It will take us about an hour to get there” WHAT? Who are these people that think a three hour drive is normal and not far? I still wonder but I think its the flatness, it kind of destroys one’s depth perception.
I climbed back into the car, pointed my car due West and headed into the dark Kansas night. The long, still, straight Kansas night. I remember that section of the drive as the “dry eyes, shaken not stirred, blasting music so that I don’t fall asleep, sticking my head out the window and yelling” stretch. It took the full three hours to drive it, but it seemed more like 20. I swear I fell asleep at least twice. For those of you in western Kansas, I crossed five counties.
I passed into the mountain time zone around 11:30 and finally saw the signs pointing to Goodland. Good Land. Good God is what they should have called it. As in Good God, why didn’t you put this town on Mars, I think it would be easier to get to. April’s house was not far from the highway and thank Good God for that. I mean, if it was in town and I had to drive another 250 feet, I think I would have died. I pulled off at exit 17 and made my way to the country neighborhood that I would call a subdivision, but April and all of Good God refers to as an ‘addition’, like they added to the town with that little grouping of houses, so it’s an addition. Their house sat on four acres and was surrounded by a lot of trees.
I parked in front of the house and made my way to the door. I didn’t have much time to knock before April, beautiful as always, flew out the door and grabbed me around the neck with so much force that I had to step back to keep us from falling. Her blond hair covered my eyes and turned the dark night into a soft, golden white glow. I felt a soft kiss on my cheek and I hugged her back. Suddenly the long drive, the exhausting trip, the miles of no turns and perfectly horizontal horizons melted away and I had my girl in my arms. She was very happy to see me and was glad I had finally arrived.
Her parents, as I soon discovered, were not.
April, as I saw on the face of her mom as I walked into the house, had not fully informed her parents of the fact that I wanted to drive their daughter away from their home…to a strange person’s house in Minneapolis….in the dead of winter. All new to them.
Another new thing to them was my “look” and it was obvious that they had not been told what to expect. I still had the weird hair, the weird outfits, and the weird miniature car that looked like a plastic toy compared to the gigantic Suburban and the equally gigantic work truck, equipped with a mechanical dolly lift, currently sitting in their driveway.
April introduced me to her mom. I don’t remember a lot about the meeting other than a lot of uncomfortable feelings, a wide eyed look that sized me up and stern looks from mother to daughter. I do remember that the dad was not at the door awaiting my arrival. He had knocked off to bed and I wasn’t to meet him until the next morning. That was probably for the best.
I spent a couple more minutes shifting my eyes from the floor to the ceiling and wondering when this uncomfortable moment would end. Eventually, April was able to guide me away to the guest room where I would be staying and that’s when she informed me that her mother didn’t believe I would actually show up for a visit. April had told her mom about me and had overheard us talking on the phone, but in her Mom’s eyes, April was inappropriately chasing a boy that wouldn’t actually come across two states just to visit and take her on a trip. I chalked this up to “she’ll get to know me better” and got down to the business at hand.
“So we’ll leave tomorrow morning. I think it may take us about thirteen hours to get there so the…the um…what?”
“You’re going to have to tell my Dad in the morning.”
“Tell him what? About you coming with me? Didn’t you ask him already? No? Well, okay. I’ll just talk to him tomorrow.”
“Uh, okay. You can try.”
“What do you mean?”
Oh, great. I didn’t like the sound of that but I also didn’t fully understand the ramifications of a weird looking transient swooping in to steal an innocent young girl. The full impact of what I had to do wasn’t quite striking me with an appropriate amount of fear. I was a little naive and a lot obtuse in my later teens.
We said our good nights, got some sleep and in the morning I headed to the dining room table for “the meeting.”
At first glance, April’s dad is not an intimidating person. He stands about 5′-9″ and is in the 150 pound range. He was dressed in a bright yellow work shirt that had the words “Snappy Snack” in bright red letters across his back and a pocket protector full of pens. From his hip dangled no less than forty keys of various sizes. He was a vending man, how bad could he be? I soon learned, however, that intimidation does not depend on physical appearance or even clothing. It is all about attitude, especially with teenage boys. And even though I had 8 inches, 20 pounds, and mildly trendy earth-tone clothing on the guy, I was flippin’ intimidated.
He was busy reading the local paper that was in front of him and April was sitting on the opposite side of the table from her father. I sat down at the seat closest to me and after realizing that no one was eager to begin talking, I mustered up the guts and started off the discussion.
“Mr. Bishop, my brother is graduating from Photography school and I would…well, I would like to…um, [swallow] take April up there to…to, um…” I trailed off. He wasn’t looking at me and I wasn’t sure if he had heard me. When I started talking, he calmly looked up from his paper and fixed his gaze upon April. His eyes didn’t look my direction once and as far as I could tell, he didn’t know that I was in the room. I also stopped talking because I realized that he was about to say something and I felt it best to just shut my trap.
He took a deep breath, let it out slowly and started talking to April. I still didn’t think he knew I was in the room.
“Do you really expect me to let you drive off on a long trip with a boy that we don’t know? Do you think we are stupid? Do you actually believe that your mother and I…” He went on, but at this point my stomach dropped onto the floor and rolled into the next room. I looked over at April and realized that she was getting a good, verbal whoopin’ and even though I wanted to say “But really Mr. Bishop. Despite my appearance, I am a decent guy and I’ll take good care of her. And did you know that I can jump so high that I can almost hit my head on a basketball rim and that I’m freaky good at remembering faces and that I once ate three quarter pounders with cheese at one sitting?” But I knew that I just had to sit there and silently wait it out. April was dealing with it in the best way that she could with a lot of smiles and “sorry, sorry” and “okay Dad” but things weren’t looking good.
After ten minutes of telling April about how I just might be a serial killer on the prowl, he turned to me for the first time since I had come into his life and asked “What highway were you planning on taking north?” Remember that list of good things I can do? You know, the one with quarter pounders? One of the big things NOT on that list is trip preparation. I was a “play it by ear” kind of guy when it came to traveling from point A to point B and so I didn’t have the interstate highway system memorized. However, I was dealing with a man that had traveled nearly every road in the tri-state area and did so with the utmost efficiency as to not waste his time or gas or money. His question hung in the air while his dark eyes were boring holes in me. I had no idea what highway we would be taking. I think this was my actual answer: “Um, well, there is this highway, you know, around about Kansas City that shoots north. I was going to take that one. The one that shoots north. From KC.” I think my voice cracked twice. He sighed again, shook his head and looked down while I mumbled something about getting a map right away.
There was more silence. I spent it thinking about the solo trip that I would be making back to school and that I need to start carrying a stupid map in the car when April’s dad turned to me, stuck out his hand to shake mine and said “Take care of my daughter.”
The comment took me off guard and I sat mouth agape and eyes wide for a few seconds before I gathered my wits, shook his hand and said “I will. Thank you Mr. Bishop.” He walked out of the room and April and I let out collective sigh of relief.
Looking back on that moment, I realized that Harry was not so much interested in getting after April as he was intentionally putting the fear of God in me. I was entrusted with a priceless item and if I wasn’t careful with her I would have his boot in my back side. I got the message. At the time I was a little put out because who wouldn’t love me? But, as a father of a teenage girl, I totally get it. What I don’t get is the fact that he let me take her. I’m not doing that when Ellen’s crazy boyfriend comes knockin’. I’m just sayin’.
April and I grabbed our bags and loaded the car. I had one more conversation with Harry where he told me to be careful and that I needed to take I-35 north out of Kansas City. That would take me straight to Minneapolis. Got it. I thanked him and promised that I would buy a map.
We said our goodbyes and headed east to Minneapolis to meet my family.
We headed east on I-70. I just wanted to make that clear.
[to be continued]