(To see db's photo gallery, "Classic cruisin'," click here.)
“I saw myself today…”
Dateline: Getting My Kicks On…
It was 1963. I was 11 and madly in love.
My dreams, were filled with thoughts of her and I together.
When I walked to school I went out of my way to get a glimpse of her where she lived. Some days I hid across the street from her house, and waited until she appeared. She was my absolute first love. Every one of my school book covers had her name scrawled all over it.
Her name was Corvette.
“... looked good, yes I had to say ...”
She was a brand new little red 1963 Convertible Corvette Stingray.
I couldn’t have cared less about girls, but when the little red Corvette fired up the Rochester 327/360HP engine... Dude. At the time, my 4 wheel transportation consisted entirely of the back seat of a 1960 Studebaker Lark. After shoveling every neighbor’s driveway all winter, being a paperboy for both the morning and afternoon papers in Buffalo, NY, and several hundred chores for a dime around the house, I had amassed a fortune (in mainly coins) of $49.95. It was the exact amount it took to buy a 1964 Schwinn Sting-Ray bicycle (at the time I was completely unaware of the practice of taxes but dad sprung for that).
I remember, to this very day, the first time I took the Sting-Ray out for a ride, “not in the street,” down the sidewalk in early spring. There were blue skies and snow on the lawns, but the sidewalks were clear. Years later, my father told me he sat in his chair in the living room and watched as every 7 minutes I flashed by the front window while I circled my block for hours. A little while later, after saving my paper routes and birthday money plus a couple of bucks slipped to me by Gram, I customized my Sting Ray with a wheelie bar in back and baseball cards in the spokes.
In 1965 and to my horror, our smelly, old neighbor Mrs. Calvaletti backed out of her driveway and right on top of my Sting-Ray.
For the next month or so, Smelly Calvaletti claimed she never got a morning paper. I claimed innocence, protesting, “I put it there. I have no idea why Smelly Calvaletti didn’t get her paper.” Turns out it was the first job I was fired from. It wouldn’t be the last since I was 12 years old.
I never rode a bicycle again and the love of my life left me that summer. On the first day of school when I walked by my love’s house, there was a Rambler parked in the driveway. I have never fully recovered from that.
“... polished TV won't shine no more ...”
But wait, it gets worse.
Suddenly, in my 12’s, I’m allowed to stay up later. Especially on non-school nights. Those nights I could stay up as long as I wanted to or until five minutes after I started driving my parents crazy. I never made it past 9 PM except on Friday nights. Friday nights I would be so quiet, the first Friday night mom took me to the pediatrician on Saturday morning wondering “if something broke inside his head, doc.”
Doc did the thing with his hand that translates to, “maybe yes, maybe no.”
From 8pm to 8:30PM on Friday night I was the perfect child. I didn’t kick either the cat or my younger sisters, I ate and didn’t spit out any of the green stuff on my plate, and I left notes to my mother that said exactly this, “I love yous, and yous are the best mother ever except for the mother of the guy who started the Buffalo Bills.”
I did all of this for one reason. To get to stay up and watch ROUTE 66 on WBEN-TV in Buffalo, NY, because once again, I was in love.
And her name was Corvette.
To be specific, a 1963 black/white (we didn’t have color TV at the time) convertible Corvette Sting Ray on the TV show, ROUTE 66. From 1963 to March of 1964, I can honestly say the cat may or may not have been kicked once or twice. In March of 1964, the show went off the air and the cat was on his own.
“... flyin' dragons surround my door ...”
Fast forward 49 years.
It is announced that the Bassmaster Classic will be held in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2013. I mark it on my calendar, and that’s it, cool. Then, I’m somewhere at an event, and this PR guy comes up to me and starts talking. I tell him exactly this, “Dude you’re pretty cool, but I don’t listen much to PR guys. No offense, I’m just a jerk that way.” And the PR dude, Gary Dollahon of something like the Dollahon Gang PR folks, laughs. We keep talking, become friends, but as he knows when he talks his PR stuff I don’t listen much. As I’m not listening much, though, I hear this one word.
I stop not listening much as he says this:
1963 red convertible Corvette Sting Ray.
I think two things: "OMG. OMG, have PR people been saying that to the not listening me for the past 30 years?"
For the first time in the history of me not listening to PR guys, I take notes as he says this, “Gene Larew Lures, where we are going to have an open house, is right on the historic RT 66 and if you want I can get you a 1963 red Convertible Corvette Sting Ray to drive if you like.” For the record, I don’t do product stuff stories unless you happen to be located on the historic RT 66 and have a 1963 red Convertible Corvette Sting Ray there for me to drive. Just saying.
I tell Gary one word. “Bucket List.” And for the next several months I watch a countdown app on my iPad as it counts the days to when I will meet the first love of my life.
Monday, that day arrived.
“... even when I go crazy ...”
Let's be serious now for a moment: 9 weeks ago today I had brain surgery to remove a tumor in my head. I told the docs that the Bassmaster Classic was coming up and that I had to be there. When they weren’t very sure that was going to happen, I told them I WILL be at the Classic, no options, and it wasn’t because of the Corvette.
It was because it is my job to be here. People are expecting things from me. It was because of Family B.A.S.S. that I have come to admire a sport that a few years ago I had never heard of. I have come to love the anglers and their families, and I believe they have come to love me as well. It was because of, most importantly, you. The family of us. It is a privilege to do what I do, a privilege to cover this sport, a privilege to be able to bring it to you.
A privilege I could lose at any moment if I don’t do my job. They won’t fire me for not being here, but I made a promise to you. When I can’t keep that promise anymore, it is time to walk away. That is why I am here. It is my way of beating the tumor and beating the prostate cancer. Never give up, but never give in as well. I will not give in to those medical issues; they’ll have to take me.
So on Sunday morning when I touched Tulsa ground, it was an extremely emotional time for me. Human, 1, disease, 0.
When I checked into the hotel, I ran into Eric Lopez and Ben Ashby, the two B.A.S.S. dudes who pretty much run the Classic Expo stuff. With them was this huge dude. “DB, meet Gene Hacker. He’s been putting the Bassmaster Classic together for 24 years, and this is his last one. Man, we couldn’t have done it without him.”
I shake Gene’s hand, thank him for his help, wish him well, and then tell Eric and Ben about how the next day I was going to check one thing off my bucket list: drive the 1963 Corvette. “Cool,” said Gene from the back of the group.
“... to my own self ...”
As I laid awake in bed that night, I knew what the right thing to do was, that morning I talked to Eric and Ben. “Hey DB, I hear you need my help to do a story,” Gene said as he walked up to me in the hotel lobby.
“Yeah man, ever since this brain surgery thing I have trouble remembering diddley squat. If you could just come with me on a quick story, just kind of hang around and make sure I don’t forget anything, I would really appreciate it.”
It was all a lie. When we pull up to Gene Larew Lures on RT 66, we go inside to meet the PR guy/friend Gary. We talk some about some lure things and Gary shows us how all the lure things begin life as liquid plastic stuff that looks like white milk, then gets sucked up into a machine that forms and color the lure things into stuff that fish love to eat. It is much more technical then that, but frankly, I have one thing on my mind: driving the 1963 red convertible Corvette.
Most of what Gary is saying is this, “blah blah blah, plastic, blah blah blah, hand made, blah blah blah Corvette.”
We all go out front, and sitting there is the first love of my life. It is all original, 45,000 miles, cheery with every original nut and bolt still in it.
I am face-to-face with my #1 on my bucket list.
“Here, DB. Here’s the keys. Enjoy, man. Take her for a ride on RT 66.”
Turns out I was already standing in my bucket list. A bucket list given to me by the universe. A universe that showed me that my bucket list isn’t about me. It is about others. The family of us. Standing right next to me was a man who for a quarter-century worked hard to make things best for the family of us.
I turned, and to Gene Hacker I said this, “Dude I want to thank you, B.A.S.S. wants to thank you, the fans want to thank you for all you have done for us for the past 24 years.”
And then I dropped the keys to the Corvette into his hand.
“Gene, dude, this drive is for you. Take her for a ride.”
"... 'll be true ...”
Gene, it turns out, is a car guy, I knew that as I sat in the passenger seat as he drove it down RT 66. “DB, I can’t believe you did this. I’ll pull over and you can drive it back.”
When I give 24 years of my life to a sport, to its fans, then I’ll take it for a spin. But not until then. During the ride, Gene told me this was the coolest thing anyone had ever done for him. I want to thank Eric, Ben, Gary the PR Guy and the folks at Gene Larew Lures for it is this quote from Gene that brought tear to my eyes. A simple quote that I will never forget.
“DB, I have to tell you for the 20 minutes that I was driving that car, I felt like I was 20 years old all over again.”
I never got in the driver’s seat. Didn’t need to. I have believed that in life, you do the right thing, even if it is not the best thing for yourself. Believed that.
But it took making it to the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, a PR Guy named Gary, and the first love of my life, a 1963 red convertible Corvette Sting Ray to SHOW me my belief was true.
And that my bucket list shouldn’t be about me, but should be about you.
“... sing a hymn for my soul
stand by me as I grow.”
Hymn 4 My Soul