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Friday, August 31, 2018

Your Labor Day Weekend Challenge!! / McAfee Knob Preparation

What are you doing to live the best life you can? I know I'm not able to flip like this, nor was I ever able to, but the point is that, in America, it's a 3-day weekend starting as soon as work ends. If you're not American, I'm utilizing my executive authority to give you a 3-day Labor Day weekend, too. You can have the 80-90 or so hours after work today to enjoy until you have to go back to work Tuesday.

If he or she questions that, tell them I exerted my Constitutional authority so that you could have the power to live free and pursue happiness.

So with that, what are you going to do with your time?

For me, at some point this weekend when the weather is most opportune (most likely tomorrow), I will be hiking McAfee Knob in Virginia. This site, located on the Appalachian Trail, has been on my bucket list for ages. I've wanted to do it since before I have Parkinson's, and now I'm going to push it out with my favorite hiking partner, my wife Heather. These are not our pictures, but they inspire me to go there and take pictures. I hope mine will inspire you to hike it as well.

In honor of supporting my Parkinson's self on this 8-9 mile hike, I want to encourage you to do 9 things this weekend that are:

1) Fun
2) Out of your comfort zone
3) Something the old you would have done (if you have inherited a disability at some point in your life, like I did)
4) Respectful of other people's talents and lives
5) Outside - even if only in your backyard
6) With someone you love or like a lot
7) Challenging to yourself, but not endangering yourself (unless you like that sort of thing)
8) Potentially able to create a life memory
9) Inspiring other people
10) Social media post worthy (which you should then post and share with the world since we want to celebrate all of your victories, no matter how big, small, or fleeting).

HINT - That can be anything you like doing! It doesn't have to be what I like, but it does have to be what you like!

This is my Parkinson's warrior challenge to you!

I'm not asking you to fund me or a charity. I'm just asking you to push you towards fun and happiness and show the world that we're sick of the pettiness, back and forth, and unhappiness!

We the good people of the world owe it to ourselves!

As for my weekend plans...

Have I done hikes like this... yes. The vertical is about 1,700 feet. That's about 100 more feet than Spruce Knob Pennsylvania and Jack's Mountain Pennsylvania (pictured below), which is my previous biggest vert.

Are we ready for this... yes. We're not out to set speed records. Our goal is to hike it and enjoy it.

Last weekend, we took on the Throne Room on the Standing Stone Trail. This week, I plan to loosen the legs and just get out in more civil temperatures.

Why do I do this... because I can and because I still can.

Are there any obstacles in my way... yes.

With Parkinson's, I have:

1) hyperhidrosis (excessive sweat)
2) the need to carry more water
3) vertical distance
4) hot weather / thunderstorms
5) a cement block for a left foot (dystonia)
6) rattlesnakes (though I can't buy a snake sighting)
7) Parkinson's siesta time
8) rigidity
9) balance (though I have climbing poles)
10 bears (though they're more afraid of me than I am of them)

To the best of my knowledge, there are no sasquatches here.

That said, our goal is to make it count, enjoy the scenery, and push ourselves. If all goes well, we do this Saturday, swim Sunday, and go to a haunted sanitarium in Virginia called St. Albans. On the way back Monday, I'd like to see John McCain's grave in Annapolis.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Baseball Game that Changed My Life: San Francisco to St. Louis Road Trip 98 / My Decision to Teach

The story of my 1998 road trip across America's voyage back from the Pacific. The rather long story of how I became a teacher and how Mark McGwire's 55th home run in that magical year changed my life. Some names have been changed (see asterisks), but otherwise, this is how I remember it.

This is a chapter of my future book Real Life Monsters, which details how I became wired to face Parkinson's.

Most pictures are reminiscent of the places in this story. Some just came to be because of this story.

This sea reaches into the shore on little waves and reclaims all. The overwhelming sensation of being a part of something is shown in the sounds, the sights, the smells and the moment, watching all the while as the Pacific Ocean calls and speaks out for me to become a part of it. Kerouac wrote a long speech poem at the end of Big Sur56 to express how the sea spoke to him. In real life, it drove him mad. He couldn't take the loneliness, the fame, the isolation and the clash of cultures and worlds that was going on in his alcoholic mind.

I cannot help but thinking of Jack as I arrive here. I don't need his voice in my car to remind me of what happened here. So much beauty. So much sadness. So much art. Wasn’t that what I once said that I wanted? With that, the sun set and the night came. There was nothing left for Jack’s or my past except for the bitter end.
On a much different journey just over a year later, I faced from the Atlantic Ocean and stared back at England, pretending in my naiveté that I could see the place that I once lived. I walked the shores and felt homesick for England. I looked at the building faces of Atlantic City and saw they were empty. I looked at the face of my companion and wondered how I ended up there with him. Did I need friends so badly that I needed to be in the presence of this blank empty person? I knew I didn’t, but I was stuck for the moment. 

I knew that there were places that I wanted to be, and I knew that in August of 1998, staring from cliff tops at the waves and clouds that were pushing against the edges of America. I knew that there were places that I needed to be, but only now do I understand something that is far greater than my untrained mind knew then.
I really just needed me to be who I had to be to find the one who would change everything. Nevertheless, she was still eight years away from that day.

When I first faced west from California, I felt nothing except for an over-whelming sense of how much is still out there. I could walk into the waves and play, but instead, I chose to admire the waves and the gulls, which were soaring into the winds, descending gracefully to land on some rock or log along the shore. I took pictures of the moment in my mind and with my camera.
This is what I have left to remember of everything that was so special in that moment, but which is now just a series of rocks that have avalanched into the memories of the first half of my life. They are gone, but the pictures are real, so the memory must be real as well.
But, as Walt Whitman said, “Where is what I started for so long ago? And why is it yet unfound?”57

“Exactly what is America?” Molly*** said to me in the warm June haze as I gazed on the image of our four legs dangling off of the pedestrian bridge.
There we were, seated on a concrete walking platform that stretched itself across the A14 motorway, and floatingly, my intoxicated mind turned to survey the distance between Bury St. Edmunds and Ipswich. The distance between two worlds and five and a half years of my life was a greater stretch than the thirty miles that a person would know to be the geographical answer.

To the front, we saw the smokestacks of Bury’s sugar factory as it gently turned smoke into the twisting fingers of dirty clouds. This smog reached up into the peaceful July sky to signal to the world that commerce was taking place, and that the city was still very much alive.
Back in the moment, the focus was on the drifting away of other things as we stared at the present.
If we would have chosen to look out far enough, we could have gazed ahead on a road that would take us all the way to Cambridge. What was once an important destination in my life was yet another memory that would be abandoned to the rearview mirror in another couple days.
So much of my young adult life transpired in those three cities, as well as the London world that existed slightly further down these connecting roads. Of these memories, so many lifetimes were lost on English streets, and so many daydreams of greatness also floated lifelessly out to the Channel. Call it youthful stupidity, immaturity, the free flow of alcohol, or lack of self-confidence (or all of the above), but so many things were dead in all of these places. Despite all of this, my mind was numb to what was to come, but at the same point, a part of me was acutely aware of what was to come.

If I let my mind travel off to it, I couldn’t even fathom what other ghosts were yet to come and what would materialize in all the time after this evening.
It might be thought that in that moment, my mind drifted off to a time that awaited me less than a week later, but it didn’t. I was at peace in a moment that I thought would last forever. Something in me just knew that this was a point in my life that would be immortalized forever for its potential significance. Besides, the time that I spent getting to here seemed to take forever (though there were parts that seemed to fly by).
I guess you can say that sometimes people just understand these step to the side, reality TV moments. I knew this then and still know that I do. With that, I stopped my mind from running and allowed myself to enjoy the moment and not get caught up in the anxieties that have always ruled my life and dominated my subconscious.
This is my Ghost Land Kingdom. This is the place where all of the dead roads in my mind travel back to the burned down buildings and fallen monuments of my youth.

In this, places like Sinking Spring and Bury St. Edmunds are my Awatovi58 and Wounded Knee59.
These ghosts are the lives that have touched me and cannot be erased. Their energy floats around me and haunts me on a consistent basis. Whether it’s the remnants and artifacts that they leave or the souvenirs that I have kept from our interactions, they are always here.
For that, this is my Mesa Verde waiting to be discovered and catalogued by some Richard Wetherill60

But that night, instead of falling prey to the poltergeists of my brain, I created a permanent imprint of romanticist beauty. It was something that I wouldn’t understand until the moment these words spilled out onto the computer screen. While they have been changed a lot over twenty-two years, that understanding in and of itself is something beautiful, something altogether apart from everywhere else that this tale tends to go. However, it is the circular nature of where this story must go. On each journey, it arrives at all of the stops that it must stop at, and it encounters all of the spirits that must be faced to get to that point.
Like the smoke, it has now dissipated and changed into so many things. Nevertheless, the core residual haunting is something else entirely.
By virtue of the experience of almost fifty years of life and over twenty years since these events happened, much has changed. Such is the benefit of growth and hindsight, but so too is it the negative of not feeling for the situations in the way that I used to.
For this, I am thankful for the lost writing treasures that I found along the way. These stored notes and typed missives have become the treasure map to the man that I used to be.

As compared to other periods of change and turmoil in my life, I don’t think that there was anything that was truly plaguing my mind with potential anxieties, evils, and thumping images that I didn’t want to think about at the time. Molly and I were just sitting, feet swinging, cars whizzing by underneath us, minds soaring peacefully in an alcoholic buzz, and the words flowing forth in that youthful world that is early twenty something quasi intellectualism. Perhaps this naiveté is why this night stands out in my mind all these years later.
Then again, maybe this is what it is it is because British cider is good at drowning out immediate thoughts. However, in looking back, though there was so much that I had thought about prior to that evening, so much that I troubled myself with and hoped for, to think back on that moment with anything other than an overly nostalgic feeling of being nearly one quarter of a century old and starting over would do no justice to that period of my life.

Molly and I were two people on a bridge destined to go somewhere, at random points together. The rest of the time was about what we’d do after that. For that, the symbolism of being over a road, on a bridge, between the lives we were leaving and the lives that we were going to, it was a point to stop and reflect and just celebrate what life is instead of wallowing in its pain and suffering. This was our “Song off the Open Road61,” and I was exhibiting my best Walt Whitman to chronicle the life of my times past, present, and future.
And with that, Rod Stewart’s “You Wear It Well62” plays until it fades off into the night. There were some good days, some great days, and some bad days. I was lost along the way. A beautiful woman found me, and we had our time together. There are many great memories of those days, which I never will forget, but on the night that the Austin Maestro died, there wasn’t anything to do but cue up the singing.

Thinking about those things now, I could have followed that road either direction to better days and darker images. No matter how I followed it, I would have ended up like Robert Frost63, feeling the weight of days in knowing how that the final actions by kid made me who I am. Still, it was this man’s journey all the same. For this, there are so many thoughts in my head as I type out these words, over and over to that not perfect perfection, and I wonder if I could ever do that twenty-four year old self of mine any justice when I look back and wonder what happened to the guy who once lived in this forty-seven year old body. Sometimes I wonder if we are even the same person.
Tell everyone, and scream it emphatically; he is dead and his soul is no longer with us. I would not have him here if he could be since he has long since failed to create a better world for me, especially one that would have a chance at battling these monsters that are now fighting him. Let’s take his best parts and bad decisions and weave them into the story that becomes this man standing at the midpoint of his life instead. Throw the rest on the ashes. Let them be shredded and burned on funeral pyres and thrown in ashbins. That is all that his existence is still good for anyway.

Let the world of the new reduce everything else to insignificant nothingness.
I know that at forty-seven, my world is so far removed from that man-child that I don’t clearly remember being large parts of who he was. Other parts, I have purposely chosen to forget. Still others, I have suppressed for so long that the only times that they ever come back to me is to haunt me in a letter from 1995 that magically appears out of nowhere. So many things I regret and would like to apologize for. Call them youthful indiscretions, stupidities, and the like. If only, I could make them go away.
All the while, many of the neural pathways still connect, so I find my way to the horrors that once took place here. When will these bridges finally collapse into the waterways beneath them?

However, to wonder when exactly that old person died is irrelevant, since at some unknown time, some better version of me came to rise from his ashes.
This is my only thought about this. For those who refuse to let trespasses be forgotten, let their glass houses be burned down in fire bombings that make Dresden seem tame64.
With that, one thought leads to another and I am back in time. Just like Jodie Foster65, I am through the wormhole and looking at the things that I had repressed, but I could not destroy.

I watched the moon rise above the ocean, and then I drove off as the darkness covered all of the Pacific Coast on that August night in 1998. A little further up the road, I arrived at a campground and set up my tent as the world slept around me. Early the next morning, I drove off into the rising sun, having packed up the tent before anyone else awoke.
It was like nobody even knew I was there.
I drove up the coast, heading into San Fran on an overcast morning, eventually making it to my destination on Presidio Street to little fanfare. Nobody was home, so I ended up driving down to Fisherman’s Wharf and wandering around, staring at the sea lions, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island. I wandered the shops, and I thought about what would be when I finally got to see Molly.
Nothing really looked good. I was just killing time waiting to deal with the fallout that was giving up a trip to Seattle to see a baseball game in St. Louis. Yes, it was true that I felt exhausted and achy from a long drive. Additionally, it was also true that I didn’t want to drive 800 miles each way to turn around and drive 2,800 miles to get home, provided I took no detours (which wasn’t going to happen).
But really, it was about the baseball game.

In the end, we discussed my decision not to want to drive to Seattle, and then we hung out, talked of life on two sides of the country, and reminisced about England. I met her fiancé Steve, and then, I caught up on baseball scores. The next day, she and I drove into the Sierra Nevada Mountains for a couple days. All things considered, I found it to be an amazing alternative trip in a state I should have explored more in 1990.

From coastal California, we drove into the high country and headed towards Lassen Volcanic National Park. We saw this the second day after cruising around beautiful Lake Tahoe and camping at the manmade, yet still enticing Lake Almanor. That night we set up the tent before we went swimming beneath a million stars in the chilly late summer Sierras. Molly took off on her own, swimming to the center of the lake, and I floated in the icy cold mountain lake water, staring up at the stars, occasionally swimming beneath the surface, but more mesmerized than anything by the majestic stars that popped out dozens at a time until the sky was filled with more piercing little dots than the eye could count. When the sky couldn’t hold any more stars, the Milky Way shone through and streaked the sky with a cotton candy iridescence that made the night complete.

By the time I got out of the water, it was dark and the two of us went into the tent, talking a little before we went to sleep. I don’t know what I wanted the night to be, but after that climactic moment in time, there was nothing else that Molly could offer to the story of my life. Maybe I would have liked something amorous like I felt when we first met in 1993, but it didn’t come, and besides, I had no desire to take her away from her man. Maybe I would have wanted the friendship to stay intact, but it wasn’t to be. We said goodnight, and fell asleep.
On the second day, my 27th birthday, we packed up and went to Lassen Volcanic National Park. I was amazed at the whitecaps on the mountains, the ice on the lakes, and snow everywhere. We set to climb the volcano, but my body couldn’t handle the heights, and kids and soccer moms passed me in a most embarrassing fashion. Eventually, we gave up rather than see me gasp for breath. If there was a final straw to the trip, that was most likely it. We left the park having taken a lot of pictures, not having said a lot of words, and drove to Lake Shasta for another swim and drove towards Mount Shasta, never really arriving, but seeing the 14,000 foot peak from about thirty miles away, which may sound far away, but it still looms impressively from that distance. There was no point in doing anything more except acknowledging the realization that our part of the vacation was completely over.
When we got to her apartment again, we both crashed into our future lives. She called Steve, and I packed up.

The next morning, I left my friendship with Molly and set out to drive back across California towards the Sierra Nevadas, towards the salt plains of the Utah desert, and across to the Loneliest Town on the Loneliest Road, (Eureka, Nevada), which is located in the middle of a vast empty scarred patch of desert mountain known as the Great Basin on Highway 50, the Loneliest Highway in America.
At the time, I only knew that I needed an oil change and that I should try to make Denver, Colorado, the next night so that I could see the Cubs play the Rockies (to be honest, I can say that I never even tried to make it, but I did drive by where the game was being played).
After a quick dash from a scary attempt to camp at a campground in Eagle, Colorado, which was a place known more for being where the Kobe Bryant rape trail took place66, I went to a different campground. This spot was empty when I got there, but as another car pulled in, things didn’t seem too “safe” anymore, so I left. I never thought twice about the situation. After the Kobe accusations came to light years later, it made me reflect on the night again.

The next day, I knew that I was going to see the Rocky Mountains, but I had no idea what to expect. It was beautiful, but I only stopped at Vail for the sake of being in Vail, Buffalo Bill’s grave, and a quick pit stop for the vistas of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Most of all, I knew that I was going to go all out to make it to St. Louis by Sunday morning so that I could be there and ready in case the game I wanted to go see against the Atlanta Braves was a 1 PM game. I also knew that I was giving up hours as I was going to cross back across to Rocky and Central times, so I had to be extra quick. The only other thing I knew was that I had a lot of driving to do, much of it across the long, straight, empty Great Plains of Kansas, so it was time to stop thinking and to start doing.
As I got my oil change, my mind drifted off to how in the summer of 1998, Mark McGwire was the man. Here was a baseball player that I and much of the country could get behind. The other half of the country supported the underdog Latino slugger Sammy Sosa, who came from nowhere to be a power machine. In the beginning, it was Big Mac vs. Ken Griffey Jr., but as the summer grew hotter, Sosa came into play and pushed Griffey into a corner that he never really got out of. Then again, considering Griffey finished with fifty-six home runs, he wasn’t a schlub67
He just wasn’t in the discussion of McGwire and Sosa.

From Griffey failing to keep McGwire’s torrid pace, McGwire’s crown and his breaking of Roger Maris’s single season home run record68 seemed like a foregone conclusion. Then, from May 25 to June 23 of 1998, Sosa belted twenty-one home runs on his way to set a single month home run record. This took him into the All-Star break in a solid way, despite sitting out the game after sleeping on his arm wrong69.
No matter what I felt and who I rooted against at the time, Sosa was a most fitting competitor to McGwire, and even if the players never really were friends, MLB’s publicity for it made it all the better for all of us following the game70.
Nevertheless, for all of the belated back slapping to Sosa’s legacy, I wasn't going to see him, and I definitely wasn't going to see Griffey. Nor was I going to see Andres Galarraga, who would blast two monster home runs that very same night71 I would see McGwire and his fifty-four home runs at that point in the season in person for the first time. Yes, there was only one man that I was going to see, and that was “The Man.”

Back in my day to day life in Pennsylvania, when I went with friends to the bar for food and drinks, I would stare up at the screen and see what home run was or wasn’t hit that night. I didn't care if it was by McGwire or Sosa. Every home run was moving towards Maris. Who got there first would be the difference maker in the history of baseball.
Just like when I drove onto the Ohio turnpike to travel to Chicago, I was rewarded with the news of a Friday night grand slam because I had a Cardinals shirt on. The morning paper would arrive in those days prior to the enormity of the Internet, and I and many other devout fans would look for the news in print, and I would also sit transfixed in front of the television to see what ESPN's Baseball Tonight or Sports Center could tell me. There was so much at stake. Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa were sworn enemies. The only thing that mattered was to be there live and see what McGwire could make happen on August 30th.
To say that I begged to be allowed to sit in front of the television at Molly’s apartment to catch up on home runs was an understatement. I tried to explain the situation to her, but she didn't care and / or understand what it was all about. Still, she let me do it anyway.

With no real baseball loving fans around me that summer, I was by myself in this one, but it didn't matter. You either love the game or you don't. I did, so I didn’t need a companion.
That month, McGwire's home runs were coming at a record pace up until number 45 on July 28th72. After that he was slowed down with intentional walks, outside pitches, and various media people who didn't want to see the record fall. Each night was an interview on television based on what was or wasn't done. Things were getting ugly until the 19th of August when Big Mac got back on track. Sammy Sosa started taking interviews as well, and the two men took the heat together, Sosa playing along as the kid who was happy to be there, and then Mark seemed to get his focus and drive back.
Until that time, I wasted a lot of extra change on newspapers in hopes that something good would be told to me. Keep in mind, this was well before 4G cellphones. Now, things were getting back to where they needed to be, and I was heading east to see what it was that was going to come out of all of this.

So it was that I headed away from Molly and out toward Sacramento, where I ended up stopping at Fairfield to gather the necessary items and to have the essential car maintenance performed. At about 4:30, I headed through to Reno, passing the Biggest Little City towards the junction that would prove fateful to my life.
That’s where I missed the exit for Highway 50, and I headed up Highway 70, driving straight into the heart of the Black Rock Desert. I immediately knew that I had made a mistake, but in the desert, there are no quick exits to turn around on, and so I headed away from the setting sun, driving into nightfall. In a mix of fate and paranoid suspense, over forty miles later, I finally found Highway 95, which would take me south to hook up with 50. 

Making a mistake driving in the desert is a process that cuts straight into you. I know; I've been there.
I knew that I was wasting time, wasting gas and all of my precious resources, but I knew that I had to trudge on regardless, moving towards a solution, and that is what I was doing. But what I was also doing was focusing on the problems that my decision had caused me and feeling a certain tenseness and stress welling up inside of me.
Within a short amount of time, the sun had set. I was driving into darkness, and I had no idea how long it would take to get to the next town.  Keep in mind, this was before cellphone GPS systems and Internet information. Just being a town in the desert, which was marked on a map, meant nothing. Nevertheless, I was optimistic to get there soon. I was beginning to notice that the gas gauge was dropping rapidly, and I also was beginning to notice the scores of dead insects (Mormon crickets73, it turned out) that were accumulating on my windshield. I couldn't help it; they were dying like Camus' rats on the streets of Oran74

Rapidly, I began to become obsessed in the paranoia that my mind was and is famous for. Since the bugs were multiplying in ever increasing rates and the distance between red and the gas gauge needle was thinning out towards a miniscule gap, the paranoia was expanding exponentially. What was worse was that the windshield wipers were doing nothing to alleviate the problem of not being able to see the highway in front of me. The bugs were literally splayed across the glass, and their carcasses were being drug back and forth, up and down, leaving their green, nasty juices to impede my vision. All the while, the cloud of bugs that I was crashing into at seventy miles an hour was getting deeper and thicker. I was slowing down to try to concentrate on the destination, but there was no hope. The stars were the only light. A gas station was my only hope. However, I was all alone, and things were getting grim.

With that, the bugs kept multiplying and dying, and nothing other than a rocky landscape was appearing. I was screwed.
Everything was desert. Everywhere was emptiness. What would happen first? Would the bugs stop, or would I run out of gas? And then what would happen? Would the bugs devour me like some scene from a horror movie?
Fortunately, the town of Fallon eventually beckoned to me, its faint lights in the distance, an oasis or a mirage, I didn’t care. The hope of something redeeming was alive again. Before I knew it, just like that, I was there, and I refueled. Looking over the damage to the front of my car, I saw that bugs were literally embedded into my hood and grill, a place that they stayed even after the car was properly washed and scrubbed, and they were still there on the day I sold the car four years later, a living reminder of a fateful evening. 
Even with the knowledge that this was the only stretch of road in the area with water, a helpful hint from a convenience store clerk (Leter Reservoir and Lake, Papoose Lake, Upper Lake, Big Indian Lake, Likes Lake, Old Reservoir, Oles Pond, and South Line Reservoir were just some of the bigger wet spots that dotted the northern Nevada desert), and even with being refueled and refreshed with soda and junk food, I was less alert and less enthused about the mountainous drive.

Still, I went on. I had no choice.
Mark McGwire’s home run quest beckoned. The Rocky Mountains and the outside potential for the Cubs / Rockies game beckoned. Home called out as well, but I wasn’t listening to its paralyzing chants. There was much to do, and now I was just too tired to think about it. So still I went on.
I drove past the last chance stop for gambling and naked girls, always a combination that must be advertised, lest someone really feel that he lost out on something (and aren’t we all just wanting to get home to a naked woman that we currently love or have loved and lost from our past?).
I drove on into the mountains, and I bid goodbye to Fallon and thought about the women and the whiskey, the men who sat there and tried to drown out what they were missing in life with cheap beer and gyrating women (and aren’t we all trying to find a nice place in our minds where we can feel comfortable and numb to everything but the love and the touches that aren’t with us now, but oh, if they could be?), the images of flesh, and the desire for what was not allowed or offered, but there it was, and somehow, I just drove past it (and don’t we all just miss our chances for love and lust when we’re too tired to notice what’s going on around us?). But everything is fine in the confines of this Ford Escort. Step inside of this world, and let's go for a ride up into the mountains and see what the high life can offer us.

I drive on. Uncle Tupelo plays. Anodyne75 and Still Feel Gone76, back to back as the voices of Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar alternate on my stereo as they still do on so many occasions. The country grunge and the acoustic honky-tonk sounds blend into one another as I sing along. The youthful angst that is the bastard son of Black Flag and Meryl Haggard bleeds through on acoustic and electric guitars as the words ring out in ways that sound like they came from cigarette scarred throats. Anything at all to keep me awake is good, but Tupelo is fantastic. Everything in the moment; it’s all good. It’s all nice. The moment is perfect. They are the soundtrack to drunken summer nights beneath the stars. I’m not drunk, nor have I drunk any alcohol that day, but the sheer exhaustion of the drive has me completely numb to all external pressures except needing a comfortable spot to fall asleep.
And like that, somewhere in the sleep filled emptiness of the mountains and desert, I am beginning to feel some bizarre extension of a moment from two nights ago in Lake Almanor. I have returned to that moment spent night swimming beneath a puffy field of stars to look across to Molly as she swam in the deeper reaches of the lake. It was then that I knew that everything in the universe was right, with or without her, because the real life was coming at home. It was perfect in that place by the light of the moon. The stars came out to greet us, and the Milky Way shone through to our pale bodies, each of us individually absorbing the moment in some capacity that could be related to anyone who was willing to listen in that someday when we would both tell the story. Various campers in their tents, sitting on the edges of their trucks, gazing upon us, and it was all great.
“There was this time when I...”

I can hear the words of Woodie Guthrie, and I remembered back to a time when I was resting my head on a bed of California stars77. Everything was wonderful and there was nothing at all that could possibly be wrong, even though I knew that when I woke up in the morning, I would turn twenty-seven, and I knew that I would still not be at the place that I needed to be going to. Nevertheless, this was a good rest stop along the way.
On that highway, I realized that Molly and I would not be friends anymore, or at least we would not be what we were on that bridge in Bury St. Edmunds two years earlier. There would be a few more letters, sparsely placed with no real feelings, the monologues of rambled and jumbled feelings long since gone, as well as the tales of people that neither of us had ever met or truly cared to know. There would be one more visit in 2000. Neither of us would know each other anymore, and then we would be gone from each other’s life. Just like that.
In the back of my mind, I thought about how we hiked the volcano at Mount Lassen National Park, and I felt so inconsequential, struggling to reach the top, but panting and gasping in the feeling of pure air at over 9,000 feet. We never reached the top, but the view was an acceptable form of lovely from where we did make it to (and I believed this). Even from where I made it to, the scattered pines, the whiteness of the snow still lying on the ground, thicker and more beautiful as I ascended up the hill, witnessed the blue skies, and I know truthfully that I am in love with being alive! I am Ray Smith, the surrogate Kerouac in Dharma Bums78, also failing to make it to the top as Japhy screams Yodalayeeho!!! I am rationalizing everything perfectly and in the written word, it all makes sense. The subjectivity of the moment is here, and I am here, too. The stars are tiny dots of brilliant glory lighting up everything I see, and I am going into the heart of a dream, and I couldn't be more anxious to see where it takes me, but I have also let go of the need to be there, a place that is anywhere other than here. I am just feeling a complete release, I am transcending into something completely different. I feel calm and at peace with life as I never have before.

In my mind, I start to think that, “It is so nice to be here with you to share it, and there are so many good feelings, and these last few memories are some really good ones. However, now that I think about it, I’m happy to be with me. I’m good, and life is good, and the best is yet to come because there is another one of these nights happening now, and it’s not a memory. It’s about to become ‘The Memory’ of the first half of my life.”
Still, I follow the path from past to present as I reflect how the morning after the swim was not earthshattering, but it was a great one.  This day was all about mountains and hills, fields and forests, lakes and rivers. I look at my America, and I am so in love with what I see! I am twenty-seven! Life is ahead of me. Mount Shasta is ahead of me. Its 14,000 feet of crowning glory still forty miles away is ahead of me. In a way, it is another place I will not achieve, but it is there to see and to feel in the distance.
So why can’t that be enough? What is this thought train that is now rumbling around in my head that says I have to see and feel everything 100% completely or it isn’t real?
Must you be such a writer?
And at that moment, I realize what America is to me.

I see how I have come to view America as a place that I have made a haven for poets and writers, musicians and baseball players, cityscapes and natural wonders, friends and their conversations, lyrical journeys into the heart of something only I and those closest to me will ever know. America is everything I would have given up if I would have stayed in England and continued to try to make it work on that July morning of 1996.
I had called the taxi and there was nothing left to do, but to sit around and try to think of last minute things I needed to remember, and all the last minute goodbyes that I wanted to say. All of my possessions that weren't sent home were sitting in a few bags around the living room.
The two of us walked down to the nursery to look for things for her garden. We came back to the house, and then we came back to her house. For me, it was the final time. For her, she would move in another few years. I’m not sure how her last days felt, but mine went by quickly. It was as if I couldn’t stop any of the sand from coming out of the hour glass.

I woke up the next morning, but it was much sadder, like something gray mounting on the horizon, and I was already in transition towards something unknown, something so opposite of the peaceful slumber I felt the previous evening. This wasn’t a temporary time apart; no, this was something permanent.
I had to keep moving, compelled by the hands of something to return to America. I was trying to reject it, but I was moving all the same.
Before I left, I walked to the bank to get some cash for the trip and a final Woppa Boppa sandwich: chicken, mayonnaise, corn, and a huge roll with some “crisps,” the final “crisps” I would eat before they reverted to potato chips or just chips for short, and with that, I began to lose all of the British nature that I had ingested over five and a half years. 
I walked through the Abbey Gardens, and I tried to think of some memories, but there were none there other than Kathy in some pictures and the factoids of the Magna Carta’s early meetings79 being inked roughly three to four blocks from where I lived. I took some final pictures to keep the day ingrained forever. As I did, I could feel the emotions of the day building up over and over. To ingest the memory, I thought about nothing while walking through the graveyard one last time. Unlike so many other walks, I wasn’t drunk and I wasn’t going to a mellow passing out at the end of a night downtown.

I walked home and there we were. Two people at the end of almost twenty-two months of being together, day in, day out, ups and downs that people exist on when they are trying to make sense of themselves, their relationships, and their surroundings. There are beautiful moments of joy, and there are tears of sorrow. The future is uncertainty that will play out in letters, phone calls, audio tapes, and photos. Of course, there will be memories, but the waiting is all that’s left.

A short while later, the taxi pulls up. We hug and I am instantly filled with that bottom of the stomach sensation that comes when I am leaving everything I know and love.
It was hard to leave England in November of 1995, but that had more to do with the uncertainty of out-processing the Air Force and whether or not things would work out to come back to England. The return to England was a mixed bag of feelings. I was excited to see Kathy again, but I was nervous about what would come out of this time. Additionally, I witnessed and felt my dad openly wept as I set to fly back to England.
In that moment I truly knew that I was my father's son, and in that sorrowful moment, we were apart; yet, it wasn't the same. I would always have him to come home to. That bridge wasn’t blown down in a flashflood of life changes. Family will always be, but fleeting young love… we have to take our chances to not have regrets, but sometimes, the end is out of either of our control.
For that, there is always the music of Willie Nelson to listen to (“Always on My Mind80” and “Angel Flying too Close to the Ground81”).
However, there was no music playing when I left the house on Southgate Street. Instead, here was Kathy, walking towards the chair in the corner, crying and at that moment she said the words that haunt me to this day.
“Just go.”
In this moment, there is only love, and in spite of everything that has and hasn't happened, there is only the two of us and what we are to each other as I get in the taxi and drive off to the bus station listening to old R.E.M. playing in my headphones, trying not to cry too badly.

Now, I am back here in America, I am not back at the bar with the ghost of her stepfather now passed away. I have sat in the taxi, Michael Stipe's voice unable to drown out the emotions, tears, and the bastard taxi driver who is too dumb to understand what has happened. I have transferred to a bus and it felt a little better, but you weren't there. Eventually, I went to the airport and it's still the same. You are gone, and before I knew it, I was at home in America, and the world is completely different. I ask myself the only other question that matters…
What is America to you Dan Glass?
Finally, 15 years later, in the middle of a state I had never thought about going to, in a place I never heard of, I know the answer to that question, but it comes with the realizations of the next decade, a story that this book was never meant to enclose. When I originally wrote many of these words in the 1990s, this was to be the story of you and me, but instead, as it has evolved in the two decades since then, it is the story of her, my family, America, Parkinson’s, and me.
Life has us all where we are meant to be, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m sure you’re equally happy for the family it has given you.

 Many years ago, John Dos Passos said that:
"U.S.A. is the slice of a continent. U.S.A. is a group of holding companies, some aggregations of trade unions, a set of laws bound in calf, a radio network, a chain of moving picture theatres, a column of stock quotations rubbed out and written in by a Western Union boy on a blackboard, a public library full of old newspapers and dog-eared history books with protests scrawled on the margins in pencil. U.S.A. is the world's greatest river valley fringed with mountains and hills, U.S.A. is a set of bigmouthed officials with too many bank accounts. U.S.A. is a lot of men buried in their uniforms in Arlington Cemetery. U.S.A. is the letters at the end of an address when you are away from home. But mostly U.S.A. is the speech of the people.82"
So much is beneath the surface, and I wonder if I could express it that meaningfully. Suddenly, I realize what has happened. Here in the Toiyabe Mountains, I understand the truth of what America is for the first time.

I have wandered through the cities, but I was meant to see something else. I see the cities as places of refuge until I can escape to the roadside towns of America that grace book pages and artistic endeavors. They are the subjects of Walt Whitman’s poetry, the people he meets on the “Open Road.”
This is the moment when I can actually think of America as something real, something other than a mom who is there with her apple pie. This is the Promised Land, a place where the sun still rises beautifully in the morning as the gravestones of my heroes still reflect on the anecdotes and accomplishments of the things that are right about America. I will take their words and find people who can sing their songs and meanings in their own life.

I will walk in the places where they were inspired. I will see the vistas and mysterious worlds that they have known. I will find truth in natural beauty. I will be who I have to be, and I will help other people be who they have to be as well. All of that is the first step in rediscovering the world that the great explorers landed in 500 years ago (though history books tell lies; America is much older). I will remake it as my own.
In San Francisco, I had shared the poems of William Carlos Williams, E.E. Cummings, and Ezra Pound with Molly, but she did not understand and feel the same things that I did for these words. If she did not relate to this, then she would never understand the journey I had just accomplished to be with her momentarily, traveling across the Mojave Desert and on towards Bakersfield and the golden hills of southern California and on to eventually reach the coast and then twist and turn along highway 1 all along the California coast.
And I wonder to myself what are these highways and bi-ways leading to?
In my time, I had grown to love a chosen few, hate a few more, felt hated by others, and felt sadly insensitive to the plight of much of the faceless masses, but still I looked for hope in the faces that come to stand out as having something that they choose to reveal to me. This feeling has become so rare that I have come to dislike the ennui that is the commonplace, the emptiness of the faceless and lifeless masses, the casual and uninteresting conversation of people who strive only for wasting time as a way of distraction. It’s as if they never think that life can be something better. 

It is for this that I felt so good to be with me, and only me on this trip, which has come to be a journey inwards towards understanding, a place I could have never been if I was with someone else.
I thought about my friend Edward***. I wondered where his journey of teaching in the Middle East would take him, if I ever will see him again. Only time will tell (Author’s note: he did come back to America).
Would I be on this road if he came with me? I doubt it. Some things in me would have changed for the better, some for the worst, but who cares? That’s a road I didn’t travel, so the point is to understand what is, not what could have been.

With that, I reflected on how I was headed towards something that is right in front of me. The only question left is, “Can I grasp it?”

Uncle Tupelo is playing again. I am driving into the mountains of the Toiyabe Range, and I am headed towards some unseen force in the mountains ahead. I am entering into some monumental collision with the higher forces of the world that are set to divine their message to me. I am ready to receive, and yet I have no idea that I am an instrument of the will of some divine cosmic force.
The moment was simple and it was there. All I had to do was open my soul up to the universe so that I could receive the message loud and clear.
Starting in the spring of 1998, I began to take honor’s classes at Reading Area Community College (RACC). The first one that I took was on the hero, and it was a huge paper, which was larger than all of the other papers I ever wrote except for my final papers for undergraduate and grad school. Grammatically, it was flawed, but in concept, there was much there that dealt with almost everything that I had learned in World Literature 1. At the end, I presented my topic to the class, and even though I hadn’t spoken to a group before this, I was in my element.

That summer, I did a presentation on E.E. Cummings, my favorite poet at the time. That paper was also flawed in that it served more as a biography than as an expression of how a single theme is used in all of his poetry or some other scholarly work. It didn’t matter because I got to teach it, and I got to show my love for literature and all that it could do for someone’s life.
I started to realize that literature was just like music, only it was a series of words that you could do more things with since there were no sounds to discriminate against. It was about using the imagination to see something in ways that you interpreted them to be. A movie is also impeding to a person in that it is defined with actors and the director’s orders. You either like it as it is, or you feel that the theme could be done a better way. Then again, you may not like any of it. At its very least, you slice it into parts that you can enjoy or look forward to when they are presented to you on a screen. 
With a book, you are forced to work hard to dig through the pages to see the words come to life. It’s a personal thing, and it’s an expression of an author’s life and visions rolled into one. You feel them or you don’t. So when you feel them, they become intertwined with your life and visions and you replay them your own way as the movie you intend for them to be. However, once again, with movies, it’s the director’s and producer’s intentions and the actors’ and actresses’ expressions. Sometimes it is personal, but that is rare.
In contrast, even the worst literature requires a personal participation from the reader at hand.
I wanted to share this.

Outside of the town of Austin, Nevada, population not too many, I was getting tired, but I was still meditating on the thought, almost worn out from the excitement and intensity that was the clearness of that vision in my head.
You should become a teacher. You should share your love of literature and express to others how it made a difference in your life and offer them the same things that it offered you.
I kept driving. I kept thinking about this. And then, I hit the wall, and I needed to pull over. I was driving up a huge mountain out of the town, realizing that nothing was there, and that if something didn’t appear quickly, I would just have to pull off to the side of the highway. Fortunately, a dirt road appeared to the left of Highway 50, and I pulled into it, noticing the camping sign as I did. When I got to the end of the road, I was alone and there was a circular road that turned around on itself to lead back out again. It was there that I parked and began to set up my tent for the night.
Everything was darkness except for the stars and the Milky Way. The whiteness of the sky was beautiful, yet I still needed the headlights of my car to see. I hammered in the stakes and let the folding poles snap into place in their appropriate pegs. I thought about putting the tent’s rain fly on, but it was too beautiful a night to even think of that, so I just went in the car, turned off the beams and laid in the tent, looking up through the mesh. I had to leave the tent and see the stars one last time, and “so it was that I wander'd off by myself, in the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.83

I walked all around. I thought of everything in the past, I thought of everything in the future, and I thought of a baseball game in St. Louis, which was only three nights away. As for the next day, I thought that I would drive across Utah and into Colorado and see the Rockies and the Cubs at Coors Field. It wasn’t to be, but that was still a day away.
Tonight was a million stars, and the words were filling my book as I wrote in the poorly lit light of the lamp that was sitting on my tent’s floor. Everything was beautiful, and the dreams I felt were wonderful, too.
The next morning I awakened, packed up the tent and headed off towards the east and all that it had to offer. The desert of Nevada looks different in the day. I drove off, and the first town that I saw was Eureka, Nevada, which I only noticed for the sign that stated that I was entering into it.
“The Loneliest Town on the Loneliest Road”
The great poet E.E. Cummings once expressed his belief that nobody sees things the way that you or I individually do in his poem l(a. This had become my way of life, my expression for being. Suddenly, subconsciously, it all made sense. This town would become a symbol of who that I was, a place that two years later, when I entered it again from the east, would finally be “rediscovered.” I would get out in the haze and fog that was lifting off the mountains from the quick rainstorm that we had just prior to arriving, and I would take multiple pictures of the sign to prove that it really does exist.

No photos = no proof. Just ask a sasquatch hunter. 

In its early days during the 1860s, Eureka came to be as a result of silver discoveries. Hence, Nevada became the Silver State. By about 1878, the town had grown to be quite large as 9,000 people had come to live there, frequenting the saloons, gambling parlors and dens of prostitution, as well as the three opera houses that the city was built around at the time. Compared to the blip on radar that it currently is, Eureka was once so big that there were five volunteer fire companies in its premises84.
At the height of its grandeur, Eureka’s miners and factories “created” 700 tons of usable silver, gold and zinc in a day, sending them across the country and to companies that operated abroad as well. However, by 1879, things were changing as floods caused the price of charcoal to drop. This saw the Carbonari, an Italian charcoal burner’s association, go on strike until they were gunned down for daring to interrupt business practice. In the ensuing battle, five of these men died and many others were taught not to mess with the mines. This signaled the beginning of the end, and in 1882, peak production occurred. By 1891, the most important mines were shut down.
When a historian looks at what Eureka was, and what Eureka is, it’s hard to tell the difference, since many of the buildings are refurbished to look as they did when Eureka was a bustling world of excitement, prosperity and hope. Somewhere in these buildings and hills lies a town, a shell of its former self, but definitely not a ghost town. It is a town that still exists and tells its story provided that the person traveling through wants to listen rather than to just keep driving through.
The only question is whether anyone wants to listen.

I drove on, across the salt plains of Utah that Edward had spoken of as being incredibly beautiful, but all I could see was the haze above the desert. It appeared as something mirror-like that was stretched across the horizon. However, I couldn’t really see what it was. I took pictures for him, should I ever see him again, and I headed east again, as I wanted to make it to Denver by 7:00PM that night.
As I drove on, the time kept getting modified as I knew it wouldn’t be a 7:00PM arrival, and then I knew it wouldn’t be 8:00PM, so I chose to keep going on, eventually skipping the game altogether in order to find a spot to camp that night.
In driving to the campground, I hadn’t seen any of the Rockies, but I did see a host of tunnels through the mountain and the dark shadows of the huge cliffs and hills that rose around me. I felt the curves of the highway rise and whip me around until I got through to a level plain for clear sailing. In my exhaustion, I joked to myself that my Ford Escort had all of the power of Darryl Kile’s85 curveball in this thin Rocky Mountain air.

You were either a baseball fan in 1998 or you weren’t.

The next day I woke up, went and ate breakfast in Vail, and took pictures of ski slopes that were grassy in the late August sun. It wasn’t that warm on that morning, but it was still summer, and though the snows would soon bring the tourists, that day it was just another summer day in a town that seemed all but closed for the season.
Later on, I stopped at Buffalo Bill’s grave86, not knowing as much who he was as that he was a famous American from ages past, and he had an obscure Phish song named after him. I wandered his museum, took pictures of his grave, and bought a T-shirt for the sheer Phish87 appeal of the man. Then, I drove on and on, getting east of Denver, which is roughly six hours of flatness all the way across Kansas to where the forests reappear at Kansas City. Anyone who has driven through this state knows that you pointed the car in a direction and drive straight across to where it is that you are going. I east, slapped on the cruise control, and headed off into the sunset, eventually stopping for gas, food, stretching, bathroom-ing, or sleeping. I did all of the above before I ended up camping just outside of the east side of Kansas City.
I woke up and walked to the newspaper machine. As I walked off, I made a beeline for the Sunday sports headlines that said that Mark McGwire had been thrown out for disputing a called third strike the day before. The fans were irate and with good cause. They were paying for homers, not some ump taking things personally (the same would be true if it happened to Sosa, Barry Bonds, or Cal Ripken, who I once saw thrown out of a game). For the rabid fan, it seemed like the media were doing their best to put a damper on Big Mac’s quest for 62, and now, it also seemed like the umpires weren’t cutting him any slack either88. However, this was life.
Nevertheless, everything for Mark McGwire in 1998 came down to one word: Androstenedione89. This made some people think that Sosa was pure as the newly-fallen snow

In 1998, this steroid precursor wasn’t illegal in baseball, but it was illegal in other sports like football and the Olympics. By 2005, when McGwire faced a Congressional hearing, it was banned90. A few years later, in January 2010, McGwire admitted to using steroids91,, thus negating the whole Andro was enough to make him successful thing once and for all. By that time, mall supplement stores were already rich from people thinking that’s all it takes (Author’s note: no drug can create hand eye coordination to hit a nearly 100mph fastball over 400 feet).

After years of glorying in the romance of home runs, many fans of the game felt the audacity to be hoodwinked. Unlike in NASCAR, where cheating is how you win92; pro wrestling, where steroids and painkillers were the order of business93; and football, which was pretending to be holier than thou despite giant, musclebound players accelerating like a sports car, baseball felt its records were too sacred to tarnish with steroid induced record paces (see guys like Brady Anderson, whose 50 dingers in 1996 still make fans wonder, though NO EVIDENCE exists to the contrary94).
I’m not sure what I believe, but I know my baseball cards are pretty worthless because of it.
Additionally, for me, I look back on that era of the game as juice on juice. Maybe this is compensating, but in reality, it is what it was. Right now, the only players I would be upset about having found out they were using are Pedro Martinez, Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Mike Trout, Justin Verlander, and Jose Altuve.
From the standpoint of the game, it would hurt to see Curt Schilling damaged in this way, though some of his expressions have already damaged the events of 2001 and 2004. The bloody sock heroics are now overshadowed by a man selling partisan politics and feuding with ESPN. Like his side or hate it, loud partisan politics are divisive and angry to anyone who doesn’t agree with them. For this, many voters should vote for his baseball days, but instead they choose to see his failed video game company, his tweets, and his Q-Anon backing as reasons to not invite him to give a speech (just like the Hall of Fame refused to give Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins a platform to discuss Bull Durham when they feared the movie stars discussing Iraq95
I’d still put him the Hall of Fame, but I won’t wear his jersey again.

From my return to following baseball in 1996, these are the only players I have felt that connected to or who matter that much to baseball that a steroid scandal would cause me to raise an eyebrow. After all, every hitter from Albert Pujols on already faced their “hmm” moment in the guilty by association of the generation95.
Because of this, for less and less people every year, the game was losing its importance.
I was tired of the drive. I was tired of the wait. I wanted to be in St. Louis, and that was where I was heading at the moment. I packed up and was off, though I found out that it was an evening game rather than a day game, so I would be driving in slower than I thought that I would be in order to kill time.
As I drove on, I found myself caught up in exhaustion. If only I was a little farther down the road, then I could be somewhere to enjoy life and the game at a speed less than 70mph. At that moment, life was all just a highway that took me to St. Louis. Was this going to be a game that would change my life or would it fizzle out like a dud?
To break up the trip and kill time, I decided to go to Mark Twain Lake and Museum97. This was somewhere in the empty middle of Missouri’s rolling forest land. I don’t remember much of what I saw since I was more focused on the game than random historical displays. Nevertheless, I walked around, admired the sights, and thought of baseball.  

As I said, I was killing time, contemplating the thoughts of Mark Twain that meant something to me (i.e. short stories). 

Nothing lasts forever, so in a few short hours, I was deep in the heart of St. Louis. I parked the car and ran up towards Busch Stadium and a sea of red shirts and signs.
“Go Mark Go.”
“Make it a great 1998.”
Even before I got to the game, there were signs such as the billboard above Highway 70 that listed McGwire’s home run total on that day. St. Louis was alive with Big Mac at the moment. The Braves, despite their perennial power in the East Division of the National League were in town, but their fans seemed to be non-existent. This was St. Louis, home of the Cardinals and a special place that was filled with something that couldn’t be described to anyone who wasn’t a part of the baseball moment. However, it could be felt in some special way, through some special sense, by those who opened their mind up to it.
Everyone in the stands was a part of it, and as I walked inside of the cathedral that was Busch Stadium, I knew I was in the presence of something enormously wonderful since the Cardinal red color was flowing inside of me, as it was in all of my fellow parishioners. In 1998, happiness and joy was the color red for people who experience synesthesia98.

Realizing the game was on ESPN that evening, I called my dad, begged him to tape it, and we talked about the trip, the Cardinals and what I was going to do after the game was over. It was a whirlwind of explanations, but only one thought mattered (other than the obvious connection to family) – get the game on video. I hung up, read my program and waited to watch the game.

From the stadium, I could see the St. Louis skyline. Additionally, the horizon was decorated with several hotels and the great Arch, which line the Mississippi River. Yes, the great river flowed off in the distance beyond the outfield fence. I took several photos, watched batting practice, and then the “Star Spangled Banner” played as 44,000 fans took to their feet in a mix of patriotism and a feeling that everything was right again with the national pastime after a horrible strike took out the 1994 season and World Series99.
That day, the Cardinals were taking on Kevin Millwood, a hot young pitcher who was bolstered by a strong Atlanta offense that saw two solid home runs by Andres Galarraga bring their team out to an early lead. Years later, he would pitch a no hitter when he played with Philadelphia100. He moved around to a lot of teams in his later years, and after getting his release from Boston’s minor league system, he was picked up by the Colorado Rockies in 2011. The things that people will do to play baseball!
That said, I wasn’t there for Millwood. I was there for Big Mac.
As the game drifted away from the Cardinals, I was dejected and angry as any good fan would be when his / her team is losing, but still I watched, un-swayed by the lead that had arisen. Instead, I crossed my fingers and prayed to the Baseball Gods that everything would be made right in the universe.
This, I’m sure, is something Harold Kushner101 would feel is OK to pray for. After all, bad things shouldn’t happen to good people, and the Atlanta Braves (save Greg Maddux102, who I view as a Cub) were not good people!

On McGwire’s first at bat, he walked. The second at bat was a single, keeping his day perfect, and then came a double in the third plate appearance. Big Mac was 2 for 2.

When Mark stepped to the plate in the 7th inning, the sky was dark and the flashbulbs exploded as the crowd rose to their feet to signal that now was the time. There were two men on and the Cards were down 7-5. Millwood had been removed, and Dennis Martinez103, one of the most dominant Latino pitchers of the time (in his final year) stepped to the mound knowing that he had never let up a hit to the man. His fate was sealed with that announcement on the Busch scoreboard. Even Joe Morgan said it to Jon Miller104 on the video:
“He has to pitch to him.”
After this, the at bat is a haze. I don’t remember what happened prior to the ball reaching its final destination, but Martinez threw, McGwire swung, and his mammoth execution took the ball deep. I was on my feet as was everyone else, and we were willing it to go. I didn’t want to believe it would go because it was hit long. I wanted it to go because it was destined to.

For ages, I had prided myself on how I wasn’t one of those people who ooh at every single long fly ball to centerfield. It’s one of those unwritten rules like not taking a baseball glove to the stadium if you’re an adult105 (though I’ve violated that rule before).

At that moment, I was silent in that all of my energy was in my stomach, bottled down, unable to come up, I was breathless and I was focused on the end result. When I knew that nobody in the audience had to will those extra inches for the difference between enough and not enough, it was as if the Baseball Gods had smiled on me and shown me divine truth. It was then that the ball had not only cleared the fence, but it kept going! I was still silent, unable to cheer, as I stopped to gather in the fact that my favorite baseball player had launched a 501-foot blast off of Dennis Martinez to straight away centerfield, and he had done it in my presence. I was still breathless. This-3 run shot, number 55 on his quest to 70 for the year, a mark that would shatter Roger Maris’ 37 year old record, raised every single one of the 44,051 fans to his or her feet. 
Everything came out, and I was screaming in complete jubilation at the moment. For lack of a better word though my mom would understand, it felt “orgasmic” (Author’s note: in 6th grade, my mom explained an orgasm to me as a better feeling than getting a baseball card you really, really need).
It felt like an eternity that the fans cheered and screamed, jumped up and down, gave high fives to each other and hugged.
Yes, this really happened. It’s like that point in Catholic mass where neighbors and fellow community members shakes hands in a sign of peace, except it’s more like one of those snake handling ceremonies where people speak in tongues, dance, and cheer that they have defeated evil106.
And there I was, hugging and cheering and high-fiving strangers, as I stood in the magic of a moment that was meant to last for an eternity, but vanished three years later beneath a cloud of sorrow as even this mighty record was forced to give way to another.

Yet at that moment and to this day, Barry Bonds107 didn’t / doesn’t matter, since every time I think of that laser beam, I think of my goose bumps and how I wasn’t sure if it was gone, but it was. It was a culmination of a summer spent rooting for heroes, even if they’re only beautifully imperfect, questing for gold and finding it just as Mark did. The tragedy of Roger Maris108 and the life lessons of my later years wouldn’t and didn’t matter to the end of this chapter since they are more a part of some other story and a different chapter in this story.
Nothing mattered except being there in the middle of section 240 and the post-game fireworks, as all of the fans scuttled down to the parking lot and drove out. Something in all of us knew full well that we would be wired in the celebration of the moment. This was one of those moments in time, and for me, it was so much more since it was the cherry on the top of my decision to teach. As soon as I returned home to West Lawn, Pennsylvania, I would make this dream real.
It was and is one of the greatest moment of my life, a culmination of a summer, a trip across America in search of all that was and could be, and it was America to me on that late August night.
Without it, a journey that began as I left England in 1996, I would never marry Heather or advocate for Parkinson’s. It’s funny how these things work.

In afterthought, the tape that housed the video for the game was lost a long time ago. However, I still have the audio of the home run call by Joe Morgan and Jon Miller. Every time that I listen to it, I still get goose bumps.


3.       Walt Whitman “Facing West from California”
6.       Mesa Verde Richard Wetherill
7.       What Whitman “Song of the Open Road”
8.      Rod Stewart “You Wear it Well”
9.       Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken”
11.    Contact movie wormhole scene
17.    August 30 1998 Cardinals Braves box score
23.   Wilco – “California Stars” acoustic
25.   Bury St. Edmunds Magna Carta
26.   Willie Nelson “Always on My Mind”
27.   Willie Nelson “Angel Flying too Close to the Ground”
29.   Walt Whitman “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer”
30.   Eureka, Nevada, history
33.   Phish “Buffalo Bill”
35.   Androstenedione
42.   Mark Twain Lake and Museum
45.   1.       Bull Durham celebration cancelled 
3.       Mark Twain Lake and Museum
6.       Kevin Millwood no-hitter
7.       Harold Kushner When Bad Things Happen to Good People
8.                      Greg Maddux