“Oh my brother…”
Dateline: Central Open No. 1, Table Rock
“The handshake of the host affects the taste of the roast.”
~ Benjamin Franklin
It takes three hours and 10 minutes to shake 398 hands.
I know, I just did it.
Every angler in the front of the boat.
Every angler in the back of the boat.
Shook their hands.
It is my favorite part of the job, this: “What’s your name?”
This: “Where you from?”
This: “What do you do there?”
And then this is the most important part…I shut up.
I smile some, listen mostly, learn from the story of the line.
Trust me, shake 398 hands, listen more than you talk, and slowly, slowly, America speaks, the America of the small and the tall, the white and the black, the wealthy and the working stiff, the schooled and still in school.
Trust me, shake 398 hands and listen more than you talk and something strange happens, something real strange, something that ain’t supposed to be anymore.
Trust me, shake 398 hands and listen more than you talk and in time strangers become friends.
And all you got to do is shake hands.
And listen more than you talk.
No yelling and shouting.
Just shaking and smiling.
Shake 398 hands and one thing becomes clear, we are all more alike than we ain’t.
Don’t read that much anymore, huh?
Quit hiding behind a keyboard and typing or reading crazy stuff on social media.
Go shake some hands, and listen.
Try making “friends” for real, it’ll change things.
Just takes one handshake at a time.
“…we can start…” moving forward…”
“On this shrunken globe, men can no longer live as strangers.”
~ Adlai E. Stevenson
Branson, Mo., lights up the hills of the Ozarks.
I’ve been to this city now several times, it’s the kind of place that makes me smile when I see it on the schedule.
A downtown with an ice cream and fudge making place that sits across the street from a five and dime store with creaky floors. Both joints as real as the people who work in them.
At night it’s neon without the trash in the shadows. Tourist stuff yeah, over the top sometimes but it’s fun not sinister.
What happens in Branson shouldn’t stay in Branson, you’ll want to take home with you the wholesomeness of the place. Not to mention the fudge.
And so you know no PR flack for the place told me to say that stuff, wouldn’t do it if they did. I said that stuff because when I see this name on the schedule…I smile.
That’s the truth, simple but true.
I’m not freaked to come here, my personal opinion, no PR talk involved.
If someone slips me a Benjamin to say something nice, I’ll tell ya but I’ve never under the tabled anything.
Won’t be starting now. Visit the place if you can, help the local hard working stiffs out, won’t hurt you none.
I may have over 4,000 photos of water with boats zooming about on top of it or fishing being pulled from within it.
I got one of these shots.
You want to see Table Rock Lake, there you go…it’s behind that.
You can google all the figures about the lake but trust me, this is what makes the lake a lake in the first place.
Beavers figured out this lake building thing long before us but we beat them on scale of damming up running water hands down. That isn’t chewed, that’s poured.
I don’t do math so I have no idea, or care, how exactly tall the thing is, from down here underneath it, it is seriously tall. Look close up there, that’s a bus, a big arse bus crossing it, look to the top right of the photo, that speck is a regulation American flag.
Dudes, it is big.
I have never stood basically at the bottom of something that you can take fully in that is as massive as this thing…I completely covered my entire line of sight from top to bottom not just wide.
There is no way you get the sense of the build from just driving across the two lane highway that sits atop it and looking down.
Stand at its feet and look up.
Watch the birds spread their wings and step off up top and never flap until a few feet above the ground. I don’t know if you can tell when a bird smiles, but watching them glide, you know they are having fun.
To stand in front of a structure that is mainly made from the dirt of the earth you walk away humbled by the vastness of it and for those who designed and built it, for it is this, for it is those working stiffs who labored on it, that behind it we can come here and play the game of tournament fishing.
And it was for those who built it that I whispered, “Thank You,” before I turned and got into my truck and drove away.
“…your wisdom is older than me…”
“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven't yet met.”
~ William Butler Yeats
I always think of my question to be the orchestra, and the answer to be the chorus.
Set the beat, set the tempo, tee up the singers and then listen to the lyrics. If it wasn’t considered rude I would be very happy and at ease to ask the question and then just close my eyes and listen to the answer.
To be honest I think it would be better that way, hear the words, feel the words, rely only on the words first, then open your eyes to see the face behind the thought.
Bet there would be more surprises in your life.
The “who” wouldn’t matter, just the “what.”
Here’s some of what I heard:
A 30/40-ish-year-old told me, “I’m a flight attendant for Southwest.”
First time I’ve heard that in line, he told me he has been doing it for years, flies all over the place, a few minutes later the next guy in line comes up, he’s 20-something, tall, everything in place, I take him to be an engineer.
“What do you do?”
“I’m an engineer.” I smile to be nice and to have secretly nailed it.
“What do you engineer?”
So to my left in line is a flight attendant, to my right a jet engineer, “Um, do you dudes know each other?”
Both shake their heads no, I explain to each of them what the other one does and then I move on to the next handshake but watch the two walk down the line now talking with each other.
A 28-year-old tells me he went to college, graduated in business and opened his own restaurant in Louisiana, “I employ a dozen or more people and we are doing well, making money now.”
Twenty-eight owning your own biz, a restaurant, and making money with a bunch of people working for you…props to you my friend, and I told him that.
Came a doctor in an Orvis fishing shirt and pressed pants.
Came a pipe fitter from Nebraska in a tee shirt and jeans.
Came a dentist in a polo shirt.
Came a truck driver in a jean shirt.
All talking with each other, all just regular Joe’s who unless they heard my questions and answers had no idea, or cared, what the other person did for a living, the only conversation involved, fish.
A dude who sold Porsches.
A dude who sold used Chevys.
Their entire conversation only about fishing line weight.
But the ones who got to me the most were those who answered the “do” question with:
“Just a janitor.”
“Just a plumber.”
“Just a carpenter.”
“Just sell stuff.”
“Just a lawn guy.”
Followed by a lowering of their eyes.
For those my handshake was longer, for those I stepped into the conversation, for those I did whatever it took to make eye contact.
I grew up on a block filled with those same answers.
Those answers put food in my mouth, a roof over my head and did the same for all my buddies.
For those who I get to meet and ask the “what” question, never, never begin the answer with the word “just.”
In my soul I get what you do and I’m honored to shake your hand as should most of America.
No need to lower your eyes to me, know this, I look up to you.
And always will.
Proud to shake your hands.
Proud to say, thank you.
No sir, if your collar is blue no need to be avoiding eye contact with me, I get you.
I am you.
“…how's that bricklaying coming…”
Some of what I saw.
“Hey man, how are you, what’s your name and what do you do?”
“My name is Chase, Chase Dugas and I get set on fire for a living.”
“Huh, umm, huh…”
Meet Chase…Bassmaster Opens angler and…stunt man.
Chase just spent the last couple years touring Europe with the Marvel Universe Live show where, “I battle Spiderman every show, I’m the Green Goblin in the live stunt show.
I pulled this photo off the Internet. That’s the Green Goblin and Spiderman about to get into it, not sure if Chase is in the green suit, chances are he is, but that’s what he “looks” like on stage.
“I do high falls, get set on fire, fight scenes, get shot, punched, kicked, hit with things, pretty much on the wrong end of the superpower thing…”
Chase is 27, has a titanium plate in his shoulder and, “…it’s been my dream all my life since I was a kid to fish in the Bassmaster Classic.”
In the meantime, “I was in the movie Olympus Has Fallen I was a cop in a cop car…”
“Wow, pretty cool, I saw that movie, what did you do as a cop?”
“They blew up the cop car with me in it.”
“…how's your engine running…”
“Hey man, what’s your name and what do you do?”
“My name is David Sommerkamp and I sell robots.”
“Huh, umm, huh…”
Meet David, territory manager for a company that makes robotic patient simulators. “Cadavers don’t give you feed back, our robots will respond to you just like a live human being.”
Now this is very cool but to be frank, I, we, have a problem here, two actually.
First up the patient simulators, of which David sent me a video of, one happens to be that of Victoria…a woman going through childbirth.
Second problem…these things look very real and it’s going through…childbirth.
There’s no way we can show you what it looks like because it looks real, trust me though even though it is a robot it is not PG viewing.
“We simulate everything including fluids, breech birth, the robot actually pushes out a baby who then goes through a series of problems, it takes medical training to a whole new level.”
That it does, this is animatronics for the medical crowd. “The patient simulators are made of one piece of silicone, you can measure their breathing, heart rate, pulse, all controlled by computer operators in another room who can send down the line a whole set of problems. In fact when you ask ‘Victoria’ a question her eyes follow or track to you and she answers the question.”
One hundred percent made in America and in use in many big hospitals and teaching centers across the country, it looks as real as it gets without a co-pay due.
“…is that bridge getting built…”
“Good things happen when you meet strangers.”
~ Yo-Yo Ma
I knew the question that had to be asked, I just didn’t know if I could ask it.
We are at a fishing tournament for gawd’s sake and standing before me is a tall young man and his 69-year-old grandfather.
This is the first time they have fished an Open together, first time competing against each other at this level.
The young man has on a Strike King fishing cap.
The grandfather has on a cap as well, and it is his cap that this story is about.
Meet John and Johnny Garrett.
John is a college angler from Bethel University who will be fishing in this year’s upcoming Bassmaster Classic.
Johnny is the grandfather and he is a Vietnam War veteran.
John won a college bracket thing to get to the Classic, we talk about that some, he tells me how excited he is for the opportunity to fish and walk across the biggest stage in our business.
Johnny is excited to be fishing at this level against the grandbaby, “it couldn’t be better,” and I find out that before retiring Johnny “owned a marina and sold boat motors, was great.”
Johnny is smiling.
“I see from the hat you are wearing that you are a Vietnam Vet, thank you for your service.”
Johnny’s smile fades some and he says, suddenly quietly, “Thank you.”
Know this, my best friend was set on fire in a rice paddy in Vietnam, not much of him came home.
Know this, my buddy Carmen was scalded to death when a pipe broke on a battleship during the Vietnam War.
Both never turned 20 years of age.
Know this when I see tourist ads to visit Vietnam I get sick inside, take that however you want.
“Johnny what did you do in Vietnam?”
Johnny shuffles his feet some and says, again softly, “I was a helicopter pilot...”
I’m shaking inside, if you don’t know it one of the worst, one of the most dangerous jobs of that conflict was that of the heroic, and I mean heroic helicopter pilot.
2,202 Helicopter Pilots were killed.
2,704 Helicopter Crew members also died.
“…I flew a scout helicopter and rescue missions. Basically every mission was a rescue mission.”
Johnny served one year in country (Vietnam).
Johnny’s eyes were looking past me, I know what he was seeing, I know what he was hearing.
“Sir, how were you treated when you came home?”
And the 69-year-old grandfather tried to answer the question but, he tried, but had to turn around and walk away for a moment, when he came back he had tears in his eyes, as did I.
Next to me his grandson could say only this, “Wow.”
To John I asked this, “Have you ever seen that response before?’
“Are you shocked?”
And then I turned to Johnny and said this, “You know why I asked it, right?”
And we both looked at John.
“You know I never used to wear this hat, now I do, now I do, I think it is time, think it is time,” Johnny said quietly to me, to his grandson, to you.
For you young ones out there, that question was for you.
Johnny and thousands like him came home not to people clapping at airports or fancy arse feel good commercials being made about them.
They came home and were spat on.
Shouted at, protested against.
Know this, as Johnny told me, “50,000 died over there, 50,000…”
Two of which were my best friends.
Thousands more still suffer from the war they did not start but who did their duty when called…fat old guys start wars that young children die in.
Spit on those who start it.
Honor those who serve.
And for god’s sake when you see a Vietnam vet…you better say, “Thank you.”
Simply because a 69-year-old grandfather still cries 47 years later when he thinks back at what it was like to come back home.
“…won't you tell me…”
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
When the time comes that I walk away from this gig, be it soon or later, and move on to the next gig in life it won’t be the “whats” I remember from all of it.
Won’t remember “what” fish, “what” weight, “what’ used at “what” tournament.
Not my thing.
I will though never forget the “who” of the gig.
I will never forget those friends of mine who play the game all out and the way it is supposed to be played.
I will never forget you the fans of the game and who without you there would be no game. I hear your stories and your passion for what we do and believe in honoring you and passing this gig on to you better than how we found it.
But above all it will be the handshakes that I will take with me forever.
The one-on-ones with strangers who turned out not to be strangers at all.
Of all the big sports I have covered for more than two decades now I know of no other sport that so reflects such a cross section of those who follow it, of those who love it be it in America or around the world.
We match, you and us.
And to me that ensures the longevity of this game.
We play the same game you do with the same passion and love.
Fishing is the number one participatory sport in the world. Nothing else comes close.
50 million people in the United States fish, 15 percent of the country.
But for all of us I wish this: Come stand in line with me at an Open, shake the hands of all those who pass through.
Ask this, “What’s your name?”
Ask this, “Where do you live?”
Ask this, “What do you do?”
Know this, you’ll walk away smiling and feeling good about us.
Lost in my Mind
The Head and the Heart
“Handshakes and Hugs will always trump Likes and Shares.”
~ C. C. Chapman
See you in a couple of weeks at the 2017 Bassmaster Classic.
P.S.: Hope to shake your hand…