Tonight I went out on a tourist walk with some former coworkers and friends. It was a really good time. Catching up with folks over good times and a good story is always worth going out for. Unfortunately, as these things go, you also have to catch up on any of the bad news that hasn’t quite cycled through. While I was able to laugh heartily about the one time one of my direct reports told me my new haircut made me look like Fred Flintstone, and the other time we interviewed ‘banana guy’ and also the time a bunch of coworkers dressed up as their favorite asshole for Halloween (incidentally all of them dressed like me, including me, as it turns out), I also got a bit of rather unpleasant news. It’s the sort of news you get more frequently as you get older, it seems, even for a young person like me.
Some years ago now I was a programmer/analyst, much as I am now, and I worked with another Dave. He was one of the first people I interacted with at the job when I first started. He, more than anybody, tried to help me become comfortable with the new job, even though he was quite ready to move on himself. We spent that first summer I worked at Fish and Game heading out to the back parking lot at lunch with some of the other IT guys around the building to play blue-grass music. It was excellent. Some years later, after he’d moved to Hawaii, Dave sent me a care-package from Kauai. Among other things, That care package contained about a half pound of coffee that had been grown in someone’s back yard and roasted in a popcorn popper. Hands-down, it was the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had and all other cups of coffee are measured against it’s memory. That, however, is not the most memorable thing he gave me. Turns out, the most impressive thing he gave me was a story, and it’s a story I want to relate, because it’s funny, and now he’s no longer around to share it himself.
Dave had only just gotten out of the US Coast Guard, and was heading across the desert southwest with the intention of reaching the grand canyon where he’d managed to land a job as a ranger. Being sometime in the late 80’s, the world was a slightly different place than it is today, but not so much different. There were no cell phones and if you were off on the side of a road by yourself, you really were by yourself. As a fairly young person, Dave had no money, and as people do when they’re broke, he was hitchhiking. He had is backpack containing a few changes of clothes and a few sundries. The only other thing he had was a sign reading, Grand Canyon or bust, or something very similar.
Standing on the dusty side of the road with his backpack, sign, and thumb out, the occasional car swished past. Finally, a boat of a car, something like an old Ford Galaxy or similar, pulled over. Dave jogged up to the car and looked into the window to find a heavy man with a pinched face and a sizable gut sitting behind the wheel.
“Where you headed?” He asked.
“Grand Canyon,” Dave said.
The man grunted. “You alone?”
“Yeah, it’s just me.”
Dave thought this seemed like it might not be the best idea, but he needed a ride and here this guy was. So, he got in and they started down the road. The driver didn’t say much and they continued on a rather uncomfortable silence developed. After a few minutes, Dave noticed that the handle of the car was not only broken, it was completely non-functional. Not long after this observation, the man behind the wheel casually reached under his seat and produced a rather heavy and impressive handgun, probably a .45. Then, as one does with handguns, pointed it at Dave.
“Give me your money,” he said.
“I don’t have any money,” Dave said. “That’s why I’m hitch-hiking.”
“Hitch-hikers always have money. Empty your backpack.”
Dave leaned down and started pulling his things out of his bag. Of course, there was nothing of interest. Finally, the man pulled over and got out. Once again, Dave looked at the totally non-functional door handle. I’m going to die, he thought, as the man walked around to the back of the car, where he fiddled around for a few minutes. The man came around the car with his gun at the ready and threw open the door.
Dave grabbed his things and dived on to the side of the road. The man got back into his car and pulled off. The license plate had been flipped down so that Dave couldn’t read it. So, sitting on the side of the road with the contents of his backpack mostly everywhere, Dave set his sign back up. As he put his backpack back together another car stopped.
Not thinking clearly about what had just happened, Dave climbed into the new car and shut the door. A few moments passed, and the new driver looked at Dave.
“Hey, you doing okay?” he asked.
“No, actually,” Dave said, then he relayed the events from just a few minutes before.
When he was done, the new guy looked at Dave for a second. “Man. That really happened didn’t it?”
“Yeah, it did.”
Then, the new driver reached under his seat. This was too much for Dave. As he watched the man reach down, he didn’t know what to think. The driver retrieved a bag of weed and handed it to Dave. “Here,” he said, “I think you need this more than I do.”
Dave let out a huge sigh of relief. The rest of the trip went just fine. Dave and the new driver got on just fine, eventually stopping at a bar for a drink and reportedly smoking all of the weed and even reaching the grand-canyon together.
I know I haven’t done justice to this story. He told it far better. There were pauses in the right places and heightened tension where it needed to be. The main point is that the story stuck with me because it’s the sort of thing you can’t make up, and however unflattering it may be, every time I think about Dave, I think about that story.
So, for the second time this year I’m finding myself looking at another loss. Even though he passed away more than a year ago, I’m only just now hearing about it and thinking about what a sad thing that was, but it’s life, isn’t it. The best I can do now is just say. ‘Thanks, Dave. Thanks for the coffee and the stories. You were a hell of a guy, sometimes annoying, but not more than anyone else and overall, you were good people. You’ll be missed.’