Dateline: Under the sky
It's not about how you start.
It's about how you finish.
I know that because I started out life, dead. Born blue, I was. I had all my parts, just not in the right places.
I was a jigsaw puzzle with blue eyes.
I still am.
But most of my parts are back where they belong. Most. I've got some new parts.
The db you see, is 98 percent me.
2 percent of me is a man of steel, titanium, ceramic, nuts, bolts and screws.
Superman in Costas.
Superman in a backwards baseball cap.
Superman with a laptop cape.
I learned very early on that life is not about how you start, but about how you finish.
I read a quote once from an Olympic Athlete from some small country whom I'm assuming didn't do to well in his event.
I don't know his name, I don't know what country he represented or what he represented it in ... but I have never forgot the quote:
"My country did not send me here to start the race; my country sent me here to finish the race."
Being born dead and living teaches you that. Teaches you that between the start and the finish, there is us.
What we do in-between is what makes us ... us.
Recently at the Bassmaster Classic, on a restaurant patio brought to life by a cool Birmingham night, J. Todd Tucker came up to me, head down, feet shuffling, neck stretching first right, then left, hands moving this way, that way, eyes up, eyes down.
The universal language of a young man wanting to ask an old guy something.
Sign language between those in the race. One in the first turn, one in the last turn.
J. Todd is the southern child I never had since I pretty much tried to stay north of Brooklyn most of my life. I'm good friends with his Mother and Father, Butch and Tracy Tucker, and whenever I see his dad as we say goodbye I get the universal dad to dad look that says, "You watch out for my boy now."
So I do.
Because I give that look to other dad's about my son, Jimmy.
Because I give that look to other dads about my daughter, Ashley.
It's a two-way look.
So under a Birmingham sky J. Todd says this to me: "I'm ready for this season to start."
And I say back, "How are you ready for it to finish?"
J. Todd looks down at me, eye to top of head, shuffles, shoulder's hunch, face moves twitches and grimaces. I know what he's thinking ... "I should have just said hello and went inside ..."
But that's not what the dad-to-dad look is about.
The dad-to-dad look is about exactly this.
I could have said, "Me too." Let it go at that, look be damned.
But I said this, "Just start dude, stay in the race, get the points, get the experience, be consistent and finish ... strong."
"J. Todd ... a 500-mile car race comes down to one lap ... number 5-0h-0h! No one remembers who won lap 176, 232, or lap 499. No one drives around the track holding the white flag."
J. Todd is staring at the patio deck, his head stays still, but his eyes move up to look at me ...
"To win, you have got to finish. Fish to finish. J. Todd, the great ones never let up until they lift the trophy over their head. Almost, gets you a seat in the crowd ... everything, gets you the stage."
It has to be. About the finish.
You get that early when your start was supposed to be your finish. I started life as the hare ... I will finish life as the tortoise, body shape and all.
And as this season of Bass is about to begin that is the message I would give to all the anglers before me, whether I got a dad-to-dad look from their fathers or not.
Fish for more than to be in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year running at the end of the season.
The season isn't about being in the Super Bowl.
The season is about winning the Super Bowl.
It's not the white flag.
It's the checkered flag you are after.
And even though I don't want to fly, me and the parts not me will climb into the sky and finish the season with you.
Every launch ... maybe.
Every stage you take, every seat you have to sit in.
I will be there.
I will wave the green, and the checkered.
Gentlemen, start your outboards.
Fish to finish.
And I will finish as well.
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.