Dateline: Room 308
I shook the hand of America today.
Felt the calluses that build this country.
On a dock lit by dawn.
A sky of red above, a lake of orange below.
The backbone of America bobbing in bass boats.
My street. My neighborhood. My city. My family.
Bricklayers, cops, firemen, tile guys, carpenters, plumbers, mechanics.
The people who make this country run.
Heroes with lunch pails.
I shook the hand of the factories of the Northeast.
I shook the hand of the farmers of the Midwest.
I shook the hand of the ranchers of the West.
I looked into the eyes of Detroit.
I looked into the eyes of Cleveland.
I looked into the eyes of Houston.
Roofers, landscapers, construction workers.
I met you today.
In 54 bass boats.
This is a tournament for working stiffs.
For your neighbor, for your cousin, for your father.
Guys next door compete here, and win.
I grew up in a week to week family. Some weeks were of seven days, some weeks ended by Thursday. Grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup weekends.
A future counted in days.
No careers in my family, just work. A clock in, clock out life. Oil cans in the garage, tool bench in the cellar, success measured by what the freezer held.
Good times announced by sawdust in the air.
Two jobs, three jobs, kids and grandparents kicking in.
Used cars, borrowed TVs, sisters sharing clothes.
The best of times.
Under a red sky, on a orange lake.
I met us today.
America is for dreamers.
Dreamers built the joint.
When the working stiffs of 1776 New England put down their shovels and rakes and picked up their rifles they did so because they dreamed of freedom.
When my grandfather stepped on the boat for America, he did so because his dream was that his son would be born an American.
And so he was.
When my father went to college, he did so delivering furniture to the school off a truck, and he dreamed that his son would one day graduate from the university beyond the delivery dock.
Twenty-nine years later for Father's Day I gave my dad a sealed manila envelope, on the outside all I wrote was "Thank You."
Inside ... a black and white photocopy of my college degree, and a Polaroid photo a college friend took of the newly graduated me standing on campus smiling ... in front of the delivery dock.
John Soukup's delivery dock was the bass boatyard.
After driving all the way from Agra, Okla., John and his 6-month pregnant wife, Magdalena, brought his boat to the bass boatyard, unhooked it, dropped it off and drove away.
For a few feet.
Then John threw his truck in reverse, backed up, and his wife jumped out and took a picture of the boat:
db: "Why? Don't you have other pictures of it?"
John Soukup: "Yeah sure ... but you know what, this is a dream come true ... my little 19-footer parked there, right next to all those fancy boats used in the tournament ... man ... this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and that photo of my boat there ... that's something I've dreamed about all my life."
You know John. He's the 27-year-old man with the young family in the pew next to you, the guy with the shovel filling the sandbags, the guy with the blue light on his truck that gets up in the middle of the night to try and stop your house from burning down.
John is the guy who struggles to keep up with taxes, afford braces, putting a little away for college each paycheck, who holds the door open for you, who keeps his yard looking nice, who takes his kids trick-or-treating.
John is BASS: "I've always believed that BASS wouldn't be BASS with guys like us ... the grassroots of the sport ... the working man and woman. This is the working man's way to the Bassmaster Classic"
And John has been around fishing for a long time, "My first word was ... fish."
I didn't need for John to tell me that his job was, "laying tile." I knew it the moment I shook his hand.
The hand of America.
The hand of a dreamer.
"I work a lot, but when I'm not working I'm teaching my boy how to fish."
His boy is 23-month-old John Soukup, Jr.
"I put a pole in his hand when he was 9 months old."
And then a smile comes over his face, and this six-foot-something big guy melts.
"When my son was only 15 months old, we hooked a double together ... we both hooked a fish at the same time."
Fifteen years from now, John Sr. will still remember that day.
Thirty years from now, John Jr. will tell the story of that day to his children.
America. Built by dreamers, for dreamers.
"I finished first in Oklahoma, and it didn't dawn on me right away of just what I did, but then I saw a man, a grown man who also had qualified, break down and cry about his accomplishment
"And that's when it hit me, that all my life I had been dreaming of this moment ... and that I'M HERE ... I'm here. I made it ... I made it ... through everything ... I might be able to actually fish in the Bassmaster Classic. Can you believe that?"
John, actually, I can.
Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.