River Dreams

My Dad, the Greatest.

My Dad and I hit the road on many occasions when, even thought the trip was for some kind of business he needed to attend to, he made sure we’d spend quality time together for one very important reason: to get to know one another. It’s somehow strange, almost as if he already knew that once I started traveling on my own, we weren’t going to ever again have the chance to really get to know each other. So for a while, beginning when I was 14, we started to drive for thousands of miles to places that I’ve never even heard of but of which he, of course, knew their entire history. Everybody called him “Lolo”. He was a practical man, no dogmatism there whatsoever. He was like those kind of folks that you’ve probably seen before. No nonsense; what you see is what you get.
Still, the man was as solid as a rock, an old timer, you could say. He wasn’t an adventurer per se, but I knew that fire raged within the man himself. He knew World History like the palm of his hand and for someone who had never seen the inside of a college, he was very well versed on most topics, world events and current affairs. He was what you might want to call a human encyclopedia.
A great conversationalist you would feel very comfortable talking to him, because he was the kind of man who made you feel important, interesting, and worthy. He was also great at math, quick as lighting with a solution that normally would take several minutes and a calculator for most people to come up with the correct answer. He was very proud of that but he also made sure he didn’t come through pedantish; it wasn’t in him to show off, or to be outlandish, opting instead for humble deliverance, and straight out ethical correctness. A classy man by all definitions, he loved to engage in philosophical premises and he would combine his past lived experiences with a pragmatic view (at times a bit cynical) of life itself and his own shortcomings. We were absolute opposites and that would provoke debate between us, but since he always had more common sense that I ever wished to achieve, his methods would always prevail and the results were unsurprisingly one-sided. That’s the way I learned, going against the best and losing even my socks in the process.
But Lolo always had a kind word for me, like one occasion when he confessed to me that –deep inside– he wished he was a little bit more like me, although (after careful examination he said this) he probably would have regretted it in full. I believe that he saw in me all the things he was lacking, call them virtues if you will, namely; spontaneity, wildness, artistic tendencies, and an insatiable taste for the unknown. That is my Dad, thick as a brick, and yet just as solid. He really surprised me when he proposed that we go camping together. I could not believe it. My Dad in the wild? Might as well scout Planet Mars! Still, I wasn’t about to let that opportunity slip through my fingers. I got so hyped that I was packed before Dad could finished his sentence. Of course, neither of us knew anything about the wild or the great outdoors for that matter. We knew there were very hungry predators out there. The closest I’d ever gotten to an animal was when my Mom took me to the pet store to get a pet rabbit. And my dog, “Juanita”. That was my entire animal experience. But it was a phenomenal idea, and I couldn’t wait to leave. Dad was making all kinds of preparations, reading maps and choosing trails, etc, etc, etc. The trip was gonna last for a week, then we would spend the last weekend in a hotel, freshen up, lick our wounds, if any, and head back. Everyday I pressed him to depart earlier, but no, he had to check the weather channel, he wanted to get parking permits, he wanted to know about that particular zone’s criminal activities. He didn’t think we had enough batteries, nor had we enough insect repellents. Then he wanted to know about insurance. That one did it…
“Dad, Dad,” I said, annoyingly.
“I’m on the phone, wait,” he replied calmly.
After a short pause, we starting defending our points. I told him that he’s going overboard with all these preparations and he’s ruining the trip, which it was supposed to be –after all– an adventure. Now he’s getting condescending.
“Willie” (he nicknamed me that), “you don’t know anything; we could be facing problems if we don’t prepare for this correctly.”
I quickly retorted, “That’s right, Dad, we will make corrections as we go along, that’s the beauty of it all!!”
I continued, “Remember when you told me that you wished you’d be a little bit like me sometimes? Remember when you said ‘I wish I could be a little bit more spontaneous,’ like me? What happened to that desire?”
“Willie”, he said sternly. “there are two ways we can do this: We can go ahead and make provisions to minimize future problems that might or might not occur, or. . . we could always watch a documentary about camping”, and then he winks at me.
At this point I realize further resistance would be futile. I leave the room, the house, the town, slamming every door I find on my war path.

I remember clearly back in those days, when things that I dreamed of being one way, turned out completely the opposite; my world just collapsed. Patience was never my strong suit and left me with an empty feeling, some kind of void that nothing could really replace and a bad taste in my mouth. I remember reading, however, something once that stayed with me throughout the times. It was the fact that human beings can and will adapt to almost anything. These trying times were a good moment to put that thought into practice. I chilled my head, came to terms with what I could not change and buried the hatchet.
I also ended up giving my Dad the credit that he deserved. He was right trying to protect us. During our camping trip we were attack by “killer” bees (I say killers because they were really trying to murder us), we were bitten and persecuted by legions of wasps, snakes in a bad mood were ready to strike from inside our boots, not one or two, but six combined, an avalanche of huge deadly rocks missed us by seconds, and for the final straw we managed to get a mama bear believing we could be supper, not a bad alternative to flying salmons as dinner. By far, that was our most dangerous encounter with the monsters of the wild. I have never run so fast in my life, nor did Dad, completely disregarding the noise making option. It turned out mama bear wasn’t even chasing us, but we panicked anyway and sought refuge in an old abandoned train station with the most repulsive stench that I’ve ever come across in my life! Name of the station? “Gardenias”.
We laughed so hard, it’s possible that with the eerie echoes produced by such noisy laughter, we ended up being the threat for whatever animals happen to be around. By the time we left the station, the silence was king.

We decided to keep the story personal, it would be part of the bond. It would became our anecdote, our secret, our triumph. And it would be the last trip we took together.

Lolo, my beloved Dad, passed away March 17th 2010. He was 89 years old.


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