Best Friend

As a child growing up in family that moved often, long lasting permanent friendships did not develop. There were play mates, class mates, kids you hung out with, but friendship required trust and mutual respect. If those things existed, then a playmate quickly becomes a friend and you form a lifelong bond.

Unless your parents yank you away from that friend, shattering that bond before you have a chance to say goodbye.

I have no friends from my child hood. There just wasn’t enough to hold onto once I moved on to keep tabs on those people. Chris and Jeff were my closest friends growing up in Minneapolis. But with Chris, there never really was the trust or mutual respect. Jeff and I were fairly close, but as I continued to grow, he remained behind, hanging out with the same crowd and doing the same mindless activities. He was a great guy, but I wanted more than just alcohol clouded weekends and ruminations of hangovers past.

Each phase of my adult life introduced more companions, but few became friends.

After getting out of the Army, my second or third job was shuttling lease cars around the twin cities. My partner in crime was Nick. Not long after we started working together, we started hanging out together. That job was a pit stop for both of us but we stayed in touch after moving onto other things. We remained friends until shortly after met Chris, then life lead us down different paths.

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During my six years of driving truck over the road, I met many people. I drank in several bars with fellow drivers and complete strangers. Spends endless nights discussing the problems of the world on the CB radio. Sometimes with companions, others with complete strangers. Watch Fried Green Tomatoes for the first time on a small TV in the drivers room of North Star Transportation with a bunch of burly truck driving men.

Matt made sure we all “Shut the fuck up! This is a damn good movie!”

In those six years and all those contacts, I made just a few friends.

Mike and I showed St. Cloud how to party one night. But our favorite topic of discussion was the nuances of our favorite rock singer’s vocalization techniques and whether we could emulate them or not. Geoff Tate of Queensryche was the challenge of the day. I still wonder to this day, what became of his life. He became a father and much to my surprise found it to be delightful. He was such a player until that kid came along. We lost touch as he spent more time at home in northern Minnesota and I eventually sold my truck.

Jeff and I kept running across each other as we boomeranged back and forth between here and New Jersey. There was the night at the bar outside of Toledo, OH. Then he was part of a group of us that went to lunch with some of the office staff. Eventually, we just started hanging out together. Jeff and I got each other back and forth between the east coast many times. We managed to stay in touch over all these years and you will find him as one of my Facebook friends.

Jeff introduced me to Todd. Before meeting Todd, I thought he was a bit of a scoundrel. His wife divorced him because of his womanizing. After we met, we just sort of hit it off. Much to my surprise, shortly after we started to hang out together, he met someone special and I became the fifth wheel. I haven’t talked to him in years, but I do know he is still happily married and loving the family life. Maybe Jeff can get me back in touch with him.

There was a few others, but our friendship was brief and inconsequential. I drove truck for thirteen more years after my over the road days. Of all those jobs, I did not make a single friend. One of those jobs lasted nearly ten years, no close friendships developed out of that job.

In my current phase of life, I am making new friends. Some I them are turning out to be real close. I trust them with my most cherished secrets.

But the one friend I cherished the most was my one and only Army buddy.

Jim and I met as a result of fortuitous circumstances.

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Jim was fighting to keep his military career alive, and mine was in the early stages of an untimely death. A disqualifying medical condition was threatening to strip him of his wings. I was the victim of a vindictive ex-wife and most of my superior officers practicing Mormons. Our quest for different outcomes in our military career made us roommates.

We were roommates for about five months.

We did not hit it off; instead we grew on each other. I was evolving into a neat freak, while Jim needed to scramble Sunday night to clean up the pile of crap that accumulated in the middle of the floor over the weekend. I smoked while Jim detested the habit. I was a long haired heavy metal fan, Jim’s taste were more along lines of INXS. Jim was educated while I was high school to flight school.

This was back when you could still smoke in an Army barracks. I wouldn’t do it in the room because Jim didn’t smoke, but he hated it when I would light the cigarette in the room and then head to the rec room. It so bothered him when I smoked around him, one morning while we were shaving, he walked over to my sink and rung his wash cloth out over my cigarette. I gave him a dick head look and said. “That was kind of rude.”

“I hate it when you stink up the bathroom with those things.” He replied.

Later in life, after I quit smoking and we were hanging out. We were reliving some of the old days and he said. “Of all the guys I hung out with who smoked, you were the most polite smoker.”

“Why thank you Jim, I am touched.” I replied.

“No, really. One guy would light up in my car.” He shot back.

“Now that is just rude.” I said laughing. “Did you put his cigarette out with a wet wash cloth?”

Jim and I started to go to concerts together. Explored new red neck bars together. Those were easy to find, we were in UCLA (Un-Cultured Lower Alabama) after all. I hung out with many fellow aviators back then. But Jim and I always had a good time.

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Eventually he convinced the Army that he was fit to fly and reentered the officer flight training program. I was chaptered out and got myself involved in another lousy relationship. I bought his motorcycle for basic transportation and thought I was settling down in either Alabama or Florida. Jim and I got together a couple more times before I packed my shit and headed north.

I can thank that lousy relationship for Jim and me keeping in touch long before email and Facebook. She was the one who gave Jim her parents’ number in a suburb of Milwaukee. That is where I landed after leaving Alabama. I thought about him and hoped things were well with him, but had no idea how to get ahold of him. Then one day, her parents’ phone rang, and it was Jim.

We talked for about an hour and quickly caught up on each other’s life. He gave me the number to his parents’ house and we promised to keep in touch. We called one another ever few months to keep in touch and keep up. Occasionally we would send something fun through the mail.

For this part, I apologize for the use of the “N” word and my racist comments.

After I moved back to my parents’ house in Coon Rapids, I called Jim to give him my new address. I told him that Coon Rapids is sometimes referred to as Nigger Falls. Not funny, but back then I guess I thought it was. A couple months later, I received a plain envelope addressed to Nigger Falls, MN, addressed from Jim. Inside was a simple note.

Just wanted to see if it would get there.

Eventually I went to truck driving school and Jim went to Syria for a year. He then came home, went to transition training and off to Germany. I tried calling him while he was their once and got his answering machine. I sent him a letter later complaining how it cost me $7.21 to find out he wasn’t home. I got a letter back telling me it was $10.35 to find out I wasn’t home.

Must have been the exchange rate. I promised myself I would make the trip to Germany and see him. He was there for three years and I never made the trip. Just one of many regrets.

The stress of being a pilot and an officer eventually brought back the medical condition that almost derailed his military career in the early days and sent him packing state side. By then I bought my own truck and was traveling freely about the country. Many times, I swung through Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and hung out with my old buddy Jim.

Those were good times.

During one of those trips, I had enough time to just hang out for a few hours before finishing my run out the New Jersey, or Maryland, or something out east there. Jim asked if I could arrange to swing through, pick him up, and take a trip out to California. By this point in Jim’s life, he was in a position where he could afford to take the time to travel, just didn’t care for the expense. I think he also liked the idea of experience life for a couple of weeks through the eyes of a truck driver. In particular, his old friends eyes as a truck driver.

We picked a time in the year that was good for him and I put the wheels in motion. I talked to my dispatchers and told them what I had in mind, and they said they would work with me. I mailed Jim the paperwork to make it all legitimate, and grabbed a load that took me through his house.

That was easily the best two weeks I spent on the road.

We unloaded in Michigan and he quickly learned to dislike the waiting part of truck driving. I was plenty used to it by then. As I walked up and down my trailer, waiting to get my paperwork signed I grumbled about getting out of the business.

“I am too smart for this damn job and you’re too educated for this damn job.” I said as made my third circuit of the empty trailer.

“What are you saying Bill? That I am not smart.” Jim asked in his usual big grin on his face way.

“No Jim, you were smart enough to get an education. I went to truck driving school.” I replied with a chuckle.

By the time, we got to Indiana to grab our California load, Jim was not happy that we were well into the day and still un-showered.

“That is why every truck driver has a hat Jim.” I quipped. “Welcome to my world.”

“I don’t like it.”

“Neither do I Jim, neither do I.”

“Guess I should get out of the habit of crawling out of bed and heading to the can first thing in the morning.” He stated with no real humor.

I looked at him as though such a routine was an absolute luxury. “Yea, might want to park that concept for a while.”

It didn’t take long before I was reminded of the negative of being a roommate with Jim. As the days went by, the pile of stuff between the two seats began to grow. After the third day, he started to apologize for it, and I pretended as if it didn’t bother me.

It was driving me fricken crazy!!

My truck was one of the bigger ones, but it was quickly getting crowded in that truck. I lived in it for three years and never shared it with another man. The occasional ride along girlfriend, but never for a week with another dude.

The trip out west was mostly uneventful. We ran every other day, Jim griped about being bored, and I took pity on him. I knew how dreadful it was to sit on the right side of the cab. Endless hours of bouncing up and down with nothing to fricken do.

By the time we got to Reno, Nevada I was out of hours. Jim wanted me to go over the mountain so we could start our California vacation. It was still early, maybe seven or eight o’clock. But the California DOT was notorious for checking logs and I didn’t have the energy to create a phony log. I could tell Jim was disappointed, but I just couldn’t afford to take the chance. Log book violations in California were horribly expensive.

We started of early the next morning, and to make me look even more like a wuss, the Truckee weigh station wasn’t open as we rolled by that cool rocky mountain morning. However, it was a beautiful morning in the California Mountains and the scenery was helping Jim’s mood.

We unloaded and I told dispatch that I was taking the week off. We dumped my truck at a truck stop, rented a car, and became tourists. Since the truck strop was in Sacramento, we checked out Old Sacramento first. It was late in the evening when we got there so we didn’t see much of the outside. Many of the shops were closed by the time we got there. What we did was find a nice restaurant and then a bar that featured a live blues band. I am sure we both got shot down at least once. Then as the night approached the end Jim said.

“Bill, were in a strange town, no one knows us. Let’s just go out on the dance floor and make fools of ourselves!”

I was hesitant, that was so out of my comfort zone.

“Come-on, let’s do it!” Jim urged.

I followed Jim out to the dance floor and we finished the night out by making fools of ourselves. Ultimately, his tactic got us some attention, and we did get to know a couple of girls. But the night ended, and we headed back to my truck.

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The next morning we headed off to San Francisco. I wasn’t as excited about visiting the Gay Bay as us truck drivers called it. But after we started our excursion it turned out to be one of the best days, I ever had. The city was full of color, culture, and style. Like any tourist, our first destination was the Golden Gate Bridge. We got some good pictures and headed back into the city. Inadvertently we snaked down Lombard St, and then parked the car. For the rest of the day we traveled the city on foot, the cable cars, and the BART rail system.

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We toured the cable car system, visited China town, found Ben & Jerry’s and so much more. Aside from the bridge and the cable cars, we avoided most of the common tourist spots. The closest we got to Alcatraz was a plaque in Golden Gate Park that pointed the direction.

As we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, Jim drove and I looked down into the bay. My eyes picked up some high speed action. A Hughes 500 was racing some sort of speed boat. I watched in silence knowing Jim couldn’t see it if he wanted to. It was like something out of the movies.

I started that day in shorts and blue Henley thinking it was California. I purchased my first flannel hoody that day in an effort to get warm. I may have purchased a couple more of those before that craze finally died a quiet death.

San Francisco was a good time. We eventually found the rented car and returned to the truck stop in Sacramento. In the morning, we were headed to LA.

We spent two days there. I was familiar with the suburb looking for a city so I wasn’t as interested in it as Jim was. That was until we headed to the beach. The locals said the water was too cold for swimming, so we headed to a roller blade shack. My first time on a Minnesota invention was going to be on the beaches of LA.

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I was strapped in and ready to roll before Jim. Because we were both novices, we did the whole safety gear thing. Helmets, elbow pads, knee pads, and wrist guards. As Jim was still buckling up, I darted out onto the path. I could not tell you how long it was since I was on ice skates, but as I glided down the path, it was all coming back to me. After about thirty feet, I started to wonder how to stop. To this point, everything felt like ice skating so I reasoned stopping must be just like hockey skates.

I shifted my weight to one side keeping my ankles together. Instead of the wheels of the skates kicking up a shower of rubber and tar like you see on an ice rink, they whipped in a quick quarter circle and my feet shot out from under me. Jim came around the little rental shack just in time to see my feet shoot straight out from under me. As he described it…

“Your feet went higher than your body, then you just seemed to float in the air for a second, then fell to the ground in a heap.”

He said that through tears of laughter as I picked myself up off the ground. It felt as he described. I hovered just long enough to know the sudden stop at the bottom of my fall was going to hurt. And hurt it did…lesson learned.

I lifted my head and looked towards the sound of laughter. It was Jim, doing his best to keep his balance on eight little wheels. One hand on the roller blade shack while he double over in laughter at my failed attempt to power slide roller blades to a stop.

We spend the next several hours on those roller blades without any more serious wipe outs. We took them of at Venus beach to walk around, buy some nude post cards to send to friends, and check out muscle beach. Jim wanted some pics of the both of us and asked a couple of cute girls to do the honors.

“I can’t believe I asked the chicks to take our pics. They were way hotter up close than at a distance.” Jim said afterward.

The rest of LA was a disappointment. Sunset strip was expensive, the bands were no better than those back home, and the woman were unapproachable.

It was time to head back east.

Jim was thoroughly board as a passenger by the time we headed back towards home. I showed him how the shifting worked, then we did a rolling drivers swap. Eventually that wasn’t good enough. Jim wanted to drive the truck from start to stop. We pulled off a rest area and switched sides and I coached him up to highway speed.

I was sitting in the boring seat; we were shooting the breeze, and enjoying a beautiful Nevada spring day. Then the traffic ahead slowed, brake lights one every vehicle. Jim changed to the left lane to avoid the fastest slowing lane and started braking while I coached him through down shifting. Much to my surprise, we came to a complete stop in the middle of I80.

What made it worse was the state trooper walking up the shoulder and stopping at every vehicle along the way. Jim was not a licensed commercial driver. He may have flown some of the most sophisticated aircraft the Army offered, but that didn’t mean a hill of beans to a Nevada state trooper.

The trooper stopped at my door and looked up at Jim. Jim just looked back, window rolled up. The trooper motioned for him to roll down the window, and Jim reluctantly obliged. In my head swirled a dozen excuses and stories that just might get me and Jim out of this one.

“Yes officer.” Jim said with a nod of his head.

The officer look at Jim for a moment, then to me. I sat sideways in the passenger seat waiting for him to ask for something I didn’t want to surrender, driver’s license, log books, medical cards, none of which Jim had.

“We are picking up a burned up furniture hauler and putting it on a flat bed. The road will be closed for a while.” The officer informed us, the whole time studying us.

“Ok.” Jim said.

“It could be a while.” The officer followed up with seeing if we would crack.

“Ok” Jim repeated.

“So just get comfortable.” The officer offered.

“Ok.” Jim said again.

I just kept waiting for him to ask for a log book or license. Somewhere in my brain I wondered if Jim and I looked enough alike that I could slip him my license instead of using his own.

“Have a good day.” The officer said after a pause. He looked us both over one more time, and then walked on down the line of cars to our rear.

Jim and I sighed audibly. “Let’s get the hell out of here before he comes back!” I said and we bailed out of the truck.

“I thought we were toast.” Jim said as we stood outside the passenger side of the truck

“Yea, so did I.” I laughed. “I think he knew something was up.” I finished.

“Not sure what the penalty would be, but I’m glad were not going to find out.” Jim said chuckling.

One last story about that trip with Jim.

Allanah Myles

Alannah Myles was all over the radio at the time and that was Jim’s kind of girl.

Step back…

I warned Jim several times on our trip. “Do not call any prospective girl friends from Indiana. Indiana is a curse, and that relationship you think is budding will die the moment you call her from Indiana.”  I know! It happened to me two if not three times prior to this trip with Jim.

Jim met a girl just before we took off on our nearly three week adventure. He described her as being much like Alannah Myles. Dark hair, fair complexion and a smoky voice. He talked about her often during our trip and I knew he was really keen on this girl.

As we headed back to Pennsylvania, he asked me a favor.

“Can I call this girl from you cell phone?”

Mind you, this was the day when having one was a luxury. Mine was hard wired into my truck. The antenna was mounted to my mirror and the handset clicked into a receiver mounted to my dashboard. I paid about $40.00 a month for about six seconds of talk time. I exaggerate, but it wasn’t uncommon for the “cool” truck drivers to take their $1200.00 cell phone bills to the finance department in the hopes they could get help paying their bill.

Jim was working hard to make this girl his, and he thought that calling her from a cell phone in a semi-truck just might put her over the edge. I said no problem; least I can do for a friend.

The timing for the call put us about dead center in Indiana.

I asked Jim. “Are you sure?”

He said he was.

I could tell early on that the conversation wasn’t going well. He dropped the whole call from a cell phone in Indiana line on her, but to no avail. She met someone and was on a date with the guy the night before.

Jim hit the end button, pushed the handset into the cradle, and looked at me.

“I should have heeded your warning.”

The Indiana curse lives on.

That was the last time Jim and I spent any time together. Shortly after that trip, I sold my truck and hoped to pursue the life of Dream Chaser.

Jim on the other hand chased his dreams.

I saw him again in downtown Minneapolis. He was in Minnesota visiting a fellow Army National Guard member who was his girlfriend. They were hoping to go to the Mall of America, but it was outside my range at that time. Instead, he met me in downtown Minneapolis for lunch. He looked like he was loving life, while I was hating it. I was driving my mother in-laws car because mine was crap.

I really enjoyed that lunch with Jim. But more importantly, I place that two week trip from one coast to the other with him at the top of my list of fond memories.

One day, when Facebook was bugging me about my status, family, and friends, it dawned on me. Even though Jim and I spent very little time together, he was my best friend.

We cherished our time together, and never asked the other for anything other than friendship.

I have few regrets in my life. The biggest was not going to hang out with my best friend while he lived in Germany for three years. I was single, had a decent job, and no bills. My only excuse was that there was always tomorrow.

Jim was taken from this world two years ago this month. My promise these last few years to make a road trip to PA for another visit will forever be unfulfilled.

Many loved Jim, all of us miss him.

Jim was one of the good guys and will forever be my best friend.

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