“When the night has come…”
Dateline: for “Olds”
“…and the land is dark…”
My chicken wings, are cold.
Plain, no sauce, ranch with carrots and celery.
My chicken wings, are cold.
Cold, because in front of me, in all its 60-inch plasma HD surround sound, a man kneels on the ground, and is about to be beheaded.
My chicken wings, are cold.
Cold, because, all around me, on all 8 widescreens, in 1080i, in Dolby stereo, men, women, and children are forced to kneel, then shot in the back of the head and tumble onto other bodies in a mass grave.
My chicken wings,
I’m at dinner with the B.A.S.S. Opens crew, the hard working men and women who almost superhumanly pull this whole shindig together. This, the Bass Pro Shops Northern Open #3 presented by Allstate.
We are basically a 3-wood shot from Detroit on the shores of Lake St. Clair. Red Wings to the south, Maple Leafs to the north. Hallowed sports ground where the footsteps of Gordie Howe, Ty Cobb, Joe Lewis, Night Train Lane and Barry Sanders still echo in the cheap seats.
Pennants of Lions, of Tigers, ring the restaurant, as do symbols of FORD, of CHEVROLET, of GM, a UAW hall is down the street, a stamping plant is within sight of the parking lot.
And yet, in all its HD glory, on TV, human beings are cutting off the heads of other human beings. It is not a special effect.
What’s left of my dinner, most of my dinner, will be untouched.
Yet again in human history, we are committing genocide on each other. I’m looking on Facebook at comments of a photo I took of a swan, a swan that turns out to be a “Mute Swan,” which some people are complaining is an invasive species, to this area.
I’m thinking, really, an invasive species, personally I think the only invasive species on this planet is the species that cuts off the heads of others in the species.
At this point, I’m jealous of the swan.
So, I can’t eat, I’m a little PO’ed, and I’m fixing to try and write 15-hundred words of nice. Trust me, even pharmacology won’t help at this point.
“db…you won’t believe how many cops and firemen are fishing this tournament.”
Across from me at the large table, friend and fellow Upstate New Yorker, Chris Bowes, the Opens Major-Domo, is eating some sort of sandwich and dripping juice on hisself.
“…ton of cops and firemen, maybe you could do something with that, story wise.”
Chris shouts stuff like that to me all the time, sometimes it’s more subdued in an email, most times it’s a shout with a sandwich, or chicken wings in close proximity.
“Uh-huh,” was my professional 'looking for a story' response.
Chris just smiles, he knows he just got a jab in, a shot to the written-word solar plexus. We know each other well; he doesn’t suggest a story so much as he just sort of hands me a blank sheet of paper with only a story title written on it.
I never walk into a story prepared or with some sort of magical outline. Virgin eyes, ears, are the best way to find the words to put to paper. So when Chris Bowes, so when Trip Weldon, so when an angler, so when Max the guy who bumps the fish, so when Lisa the lady who puts together the stage, so when the fan with the Bassmaster tee-shirt says something, I actually hear what they say since I basically come blank to the assignment.
“You’ll see, db,” Chris says while reaching for a wing.
From behind me, “Hon, would you like a box for those wings.”
The wings, are, cold.
“…no I won't be afraid…”
“It’s a brotherhood, and we stand by each other.”
20 year Fireman
Sitting next to me is a small box of stubby, yellow #3 pencils. As each person comes down the registration line, they stop, pick up a pencil, and move on. In that brief moment I ask, simply this, “Hey man, welcome, what do you do for a living?”
They do: Welding, accounting, sales, plumbing. One guy heads the games department at a casino, while another sets the fuel price for 200+ Convenient Stores. Others are contractors, machine operators at General Motors, electricians, a Shasta RV big whig, an Investigator for the Chicago Board of Trade. Some make the cars, others sell the cars.
Every one of them nice, polite, and excited to be here.
But I’m looking right now for firefighters, looking for law enforcement officers, for paramedics and first responders.
Here’s why: as I left Chris and the others at dinner last night, got in my rental car to drive back to my hotel, as I was about to leave the parking lot, my Droid beeped, a message popped up that I had been “tagged” in a comment on Facebook.
A comment about an upcoming event in Waukegan, Illinois.
And when I looked at the comment I found myself suddenly back in an empty restaurant in New Orleans. The year: 2011. The event: The Bassmaster Classic. In front of me was a young man, 30-something years old, telling me he was dying of Pancreatic Cancer.
His name: Kevin Oldham.
And he was a Waukegan fireman.
Here is one of the stories I did about the young fireman, who became my friend, and who passed away just a few short weeks after we met:
This Saturday over in Waukegan, his fellow firefighters, his wife, and a whole bunch of other folks will honor and remember Kevin as they have a bike ride to help raise money to find a cure for the disease that took his life and to help other firefighters battling cancer through the non-profit group, Code 3 For a Cure.
I was tagged in the post, and while I can’t be there at the event, in spirit I will be riding with Kevin, riding with Theresa Oldham, riding with the Waukegan FD, but as I sat in the rental car in the parking lot, all I could hear was this:
“You’ll see,” from Chris. “You’ll see.” Spoken only minutes before. “You’ll see.” Concerning firemen at the Open.
That’s why, at each event, I come with a blank sheet of paper.
Because, if you bring virgin eyes, “You’ll see…”
So Kevin, so Theresa, So Waukegan FD…this one is for you.
And for the firefighters, and for the law enforcement officers, and for all those, who stand by us.
“db, a third of my life is spent with the guys at the fire station.”
Jason Root, was the first firefighter I came across in line at the Open registration.
“I joined the Fostoria FD when I was 22 years old, been there now 20 years.”
When I told him about Kevin Oldham and what was going on, Jason bowed is head and when he looked back up at me, “Tell those folks out there, those brothers, thank you for the support, your actions run deep.”
“We are an extended family, db, just like anglers everywhere, we are brothers, we live with each other, we go through personal things together, family stuff, just like you tell your buddy in your boat, we form close bonds, we stand united.”
“…oh, I won't be afraid…”
“We help each other.”
Miles Bracali Firefighter/Paramedic Ferndale FD
Miles is sitting in his boat outside of registration working on tackle. As he ties a knot, “My wife is a police officer, we have two small children, whenever both of us leave for work, you don’t know if you will make it back home, you don’t know what will happen.”
As Miles says that, he is looking at the knot, but nothing is being tied.
Miles has been a firefighter for 14 years, 9 years in Ferndale, Michigan. “Took vacation time to be here,” he said.
It’s a tough interview, like most of these men and women who stand by us, he doesn’t really like to talk about what it is he does.
So when interviews are tough, you stop asking questions and you just listen. Listen to the silence, listen to the truth, listen to the confessions.
“Good buddy of mine, a firefighter, got busted up real bad, real bad, just saw him the other day…”
Miles never finishes, just goes back to tying the knot.
Then, “…we help each other. Help, that’s what we are supposed to do…”
And for the next 5 minutes I just watch as Miles ties knots.
I get it.
I’m thankful that I can just stand here and watch someone who cares about people, tie knots.
Instead of watching beheadings.
“…just as long as you stand…”
“We are supposed to help people, we are supposed to serve when help is needed.”
Canton Village, NY
It is a beautiful late afternoon on these shores of Lake St. Clair. I’m sitting outside of registration on a bench, on the bench across from me sits a young couple, husband and wife, the husband fishes, the wife, “I’m his fishing coach.”
Both, BOTH are police officers.
Both, BOTH are on the St. Lawrence County (NY) Drug Task Force.
Jennifer Flint: “We go on drug raids together. Chris, he always goes into the dwelling first. Me, I stay outside and catch all the people who jump out of the windows and try to run away.”
Chris: “It’s all about helping out, giving help where help is needed.”
“Bad things happen, bad people do bad things…”
Chris has his arm around his wife’s shoulder, and ever so gently, so quietly, he nudges closer to Jen.
Jennifer tells me she donates sick time, donates vacation time, to anyone in the force who may be out sick and who is in jeopardy of running out of time off for health issues. “You do what you can to help each other.”
Chris looks at and smiles as Jennifer talks. Obviously, he is the quiet one. He doesn’t say much, but the little he says, says a lot.
“We care about people, simple as that.”
To all of you out there who stand by us...thank you.
It is my honor to shake your hand, be it while you stand in our registration lines, or be it while you stand on the front line.
We, as a collective group, we this human species of us, I would imagine is huge disappointment to the hand that gave us life, to the hand that placed us on this blue rock in space,
if not for you.
If our destiny is to behead each other, to commit genocide on each other, folks, the real truth is, we ain’t got no destiny.
We don’t belong here on this gift that is earth, this bubble of life in the darkness around us. We are just an invasive species spoiling the place.
But amongst us are those who will stand by us, who will stand between us and the savages, who will be those that will rescue us from ourselves.
Kevin Oldham was one of those.
These fine people I have talked to in the registration line, are those as well.
They are proof that it is in our nature, to nurture.
We have amongst us, angels and heroes.
And they come to us through the smoke, they come to us through the madness, they come to us, to stand by us.
Stand by them.
Pray for them.
Stand By Me
Ben E. King