“I will provide for you
and I'll stand by your side…”
They are the dots,
between the letters.
Without them, those dots, it’s just a fish.
But it is the dots . . . ., that make us,
That make us, B.A.S.S.
Half a million strong.
Men, women, young, old, North, South, East, West.
It is the dots, that allow us to do what we do.
It is the dots, that provide us our stage.
It is the dots, who give us the trophies we hold.
Half a million strong.
Yet, for the most part, their names are whispered. Appreciated, yes, but nameless, but faceless, most known only by their mailing address label.
The dots, between the letters.
The dots, that make us more than just a fish.
The dots, our membership.
The dots, who power us.
dreams will not be thwarted…”
“They are the backbone of the B.A.S.S. Opens.”
Chris Bowes, the B.A.S.S. dude who runs the Opens shindig and I are sitting on an empty stage facing Cayuga Lake.
The lake is calm, dew coats the grass, dew coats the air, the morning is clean, crisp.
The morning waits,
for the afternoon weigh-in. The morning makes sure we have a fresh start to the 3rd dust up of the Bass Pro Shops Northern Open.
The final get-go for the boats that drove north.
“db, probably half the field of the Opens are just regular guys, regular ladies climbing these steps to get to right there.”
A two foot by maybe five foot rubber mat.
On the stage called, B.A.S.S.
“This is a member organization db, and these guys they drive the train, they are the backbone of it, for every one here there are dozens and dozens at home that want to be right here.”
Here, on a dusty rubber mat.
We who stand on a stage.
We who cross a stage.
We sometimes forget how special it is, this platform.
We sometimes forget, while we stand on the stage,
we are not the ones who built it.
We only borrow it.
From, the dots.
“This stage, it is the ‘go-get-em’ stage for all the members back at home. They see their buddy up here from their local fishing club, he’s living the dream they, we, all aspire to.”
And then Chris said something that became the genesis for this story, a simple unremarkable sentence that lead to remarkable results, “db, in a very short time some guy you have never heard of will stand right there (and he points to the mat behind the podium) right there, and that guy who will have never stood on this stage before in his life…soon that guy will be standing there. How cool is that.”
In fact, very cool.
faith will be rewarded…”
I’m thinking this, time to meet the backbone of the Opens.
Time to go one on one with the membership.
As they come off the stage they have provided us with.
But who…which ones…I don’t know a thing about the regular guys in line.
But know this, after 30 some years in the biz managing to do this, I have interviewed hundreds, if not more, of people, and from all of that there is one overriding gift that has come my way from them…they all…all of us…EVERYONE has a story.
Society, is stories grouped.
And all you have to do, is listen.
This is what I do.
The line from the first flight is standing behind me at the holding tanks. I know a couple of the guys in line, Elite dudes and dudes trying to become a part of Team Elite…sort of semi pro’s of the sport.
I take both of those groups out of the askin’ questions to equation.
Then I do this, I turn to a young lady leaning over the fence trying to see the fish in the tanks, and to her I say exactly this, “Hey do me a favor, pick a number between 1 and 20.”
She just looks at me.
I lift up my media badge that says I’m fully licensed to ask dumb things like that.
She looks at it, looks at me, back down to the media badge then…”Eight.”
“Thank you,” I say so she doesn’t hate all the media and then turn around and count eight guys from the end of the line.
And then…walk up to the dude.
“Hey dude…what’s your name.”
“Are you a member of BASS.”
“Yep, since about 2003.”
“Good…we’re going to talk.”
“…you'll need a good companion for
this part of the ride…”
Meet Mr. Robert Lett.
In fact, I’m meeting him as you do.
I know nothing about him, NOTHING.
But he is you.
And I believe we, you, all have stories…if we just take the time to ask.
“I’m from Allentown, Pennsylvania,” he tells me and I smile and look skyward, the universe has once again hit me with the “yikes” stick.
Twenty four years ago, my son, Jimmy, was born in Allentown, PA.
Random pick…and I find we have a connection.
Robert is 49 years old, works for WOLF, a wholesale Building Material Distributer where he is a Vice President.
Been on that job for 30 years, pretty much right after he graduated from Allentown Central Catholic High School, “No college, no just the school of hard knocks, worked my butt off to move up the chain. Just hard work.”
For the first couple years out of high school he worked summers as a carpenter, winters as a ski instructor.
Robert, since he’s been in the same working digs for three decades has accrued about 5 weeks of vacation a year, “I try to use three of the weeks to fish competitively, Opens and things.”
“What do you do the other two weeks.”
“Fish…with my family.”
Robert has two sons…age 28 and 23, “…been fishing with my boys since about the time they started walking. Back when I was young my dad took me, to our family to a lake up in Canada fishing when he had time off…it’s the same lake I take my boys and family to today.”
I want you to meet Robert so I’m going to get out of the way here for a bit.
“I take my family fishing because it is something we can do together. My oldest is getting married soon (Robert stumbles a little here, catches himself but swallows hard) my wife, she’s happy for him, me too, but it is tough on her, her oldest moving away (another swallow) is tough.”
“You are doing for your family what your father did for you.”
Robert says nothing, just shakes his head a slow yes.
“Does your wife like to fish.”
A slow head shake yes, “We’ve been married 29 years now, Lori and I were high school sweethearts….db…she is the catch of my life.”
Meet Buddy Valentine
Well it worked once, let’s try it again, “Sir can you give me a number between 1 and 15.
Flight two is in, and I’m back doing the random thing.
Blah…blah…blah…stuff to the stranger at the fence involving Media badges and a wild time growing up in the ‘60’s.
“Thank you….one, two, three, four….
…eight…hey dude what’s your name.”
“You a member of BASS,”
“Meet me when you come off the stage.”
I think I scared him.
Buddy Valentine…a big muscular brush cut 37 year old from Westernville, NY “5 minutes north of Rome, NY.”
That didn’t help me much but I wrote it down.
“Are you married.”
“Yes sir…just married…to Angela…married in June…and we have a baby coming next year. A baby girl, my princess…we are going to call here Arianna.”
“Pretty name (after he spells it for me 3 times), how did you pick it.”
Buddy smiles, looks away, then back to me, “Really, you really want to know.”
“We were out to dinner one night and the waitress who waited on us had a name badge on…and it was that name and we thought it was different and sounded pretty…sound crazy but that’s how we picked it.”
I’m smiling as I write it down…to me…the pick sounds perfect.
“So what do you do for a living.”
“I’m a tower rigger.”
I don’t even write it down, I have no idea what the big dude just said.
Buddy senses that, “I climb up those cell towers that power your cell phones and I fix things up there when they go bad, and I also build the towers.”
I’m thinking…oh that’s one job I wouldn’t want to do, “So how far up do you go.”
“To the top (I set myself up for that one), I’ve been as high up as 1,040 feet so far.”
Dudes…the EMPIRE STATE building roof height is 1,250 feet, the total height of the building is 1,434 feet and Buddy has just told me he climbed the equivalent of just 210 feet short of the roof of the Empire State building.
Takes a lot to impress me anymore…and Buddy just did.
“When I was growing up my father and mother taught me a strong work ethic, I’ve been climbing towers for 8 or 9 years now, been working since I was 14, everything I’ve got came from busting my back to work for…I work 14 days at a stretch…home a few days then gone to another tower.”
“Dad took me fishing when I was 3 years old…I don’t get to fish much now…still want to fish with dad…but he got busted up.”
Buddy goes silent for a few moments, begins his next sentence to me with words I can’t print, but understandable words for what he describes, “….drunken driver slammed into my father on his motorcycle, hit him about 80mph and then (more words I can’t use but understand why they are being said) and then, then…just leaves him lying on the road. Drives away…hit and run…”
I say nothing, give Buddy his time to pick Buddy Sr. up off the pavement.
“My father he gave me strong morals, love of the outdoors, be a leader not a follower, he was a millworker all his life, did the bull-work, my mother she worked, reupholstered couches, did it all for the kids.”
“Do you still fish with your dad.”
Buddy’s face get tight, his muscles under his tee-shirt flex, he is once again at the scene of the accident, once again at his father’s hospital bedside, “I take him out, he’s still busted up, uses a cane to get around, but he sits in the back of my boat…”
At this point, I give Buddy Jr. and Sr. their time together, their peace, and don’t ask any other questions but one.
“You excited to be a dad yourself now.”
And the smile comes back, “Can’t wait until my princess gets here…we have her room all set and waiting for her.”
“How did you decorate it.”
A bigger smile, “In tropical fish, sort of like living in a colorful tropical fish bowl, I hope she loves it.”
“I’m sure she will.”
And the last thing Buddy Valentine says to me is exactly this, “I’m not quite done decorating it yet…been out there looking to find some wallpaper with Large and Smallmouth Bass on it.”
Meet Louis DeSantis
You know the back story on the picks by now.
“Howdy, what’s your name.”
“You a member of BASS.”
And then Louis looks down at his big belt buckle and proudly shows it to me…
“Been a member from the year on this belt…what year does that say.”
“I’ve been fishing for about 60 years now.”
Lou is 67 years old, and newly retired. Lives in Oweso, NY “south of Binghamton,” and worked 17 years at Lockheed before putting in 27 years at IBM where he retired as a VP in the Federal System Division.
Born 15 miles from where he lives he has been married 46 years to his high school sweetheart, Judy, “she reads while I fish.”
Lockheed…IBM…a Vice President, you know that drill, “I worked a lot…worked 10-12 hours a day six, maybe seven days a week, I didn’t have much time for fishing, didn’t have much time with the family, I missed a lot with my kids….”
Me too. No apology I ever give my children will ever make up for the time lost with them.
But then Lou breaks into a big smile, “Got grandkids now…”
Children of your children, your second chance to do it right.
“I take my grandkids fishing, especially my 17 year old grandson Lucas. Lucas caught his first fish with me when he was 6…boy…that’s a day you’ll never take back…you only catch your first fish once, and I was with him when he did it.”
As close to immortality as we will ever get as Lucas will one day tell HIS grandchildren about his first fish catch.
“You live and you work your ass off all your life to do those kinds of things with your grandchildren…boy…it’s special.”
As was his walk today up the metal steps to the rubber mat.
“db…I’ve been on many stages in my life, my career, but never in a big event like this before, it was special being up there, special.”
Not as special though as the last thing Lou told me just before he walked away.
“Sunday db, Sunday…”
I look at him, confused, the tournament ends on Saturday, wonder if he knows that it doesn’t end on Sunday…
“…come Sunday me and the boy…I think I’ll take my Grandson fishing, just Lucas with Gramps…”
“…meet me in a land of hope and dreams…”
Three randomly picked guys.
They didn’t know each other, I didn’t know them.
But they were more alike, then they were different.
As we all are.
Individuals with sameness. Faith. Family. Fun and Fishing.
But to know that, I had to ask. We all have to ask. Who are you, and why.
And in others, we will find ourselves.
They are the dots,
between the letters.
Without them, you, it would just be about the fish.
They are the backbone, of what we do.
They are the nameless faces in the crowd.
They are the nameless faces waiting to walk up the metal steps.
They are the nameless faces waiting for their short time on the dusty rubber mat.
They are the nameless faces up there on stage.
On the stage they built.
That they let us borrow.
“…hear the steel wheels singing
Land Of Hope And Dreams