When Life Gives You Lemons

Whoever said ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,’ I want to find that person, and punch him in the mouth.

In other words, I’m not one of those people who keeps smiling when things don’t go my way.

So when the transmission locked up at about mile 2,300 and the truck seized and sputtered but failed to accelerate without stalling, I wasn’t making no lemonade. I was quite bugged, in fact.

Here’s the (kind of) short version: we needed a transmission rebuild, and the part was coming from Denver (where we just came from, sigh). So we rented a U-Haul to tow the trailer to a campsite, then returned it and rented a car, drove 12 hours round trip to meet Jason’s sister who had driven part of the way to deliver the part, and returned to Omaha to the campsite, where we would have to post up until truck was finished at the transmission shop.

Within the hour of the truck’s grand mal seizure, Jason already had a dozen reasons why it was all ‘really not that bad,’ which grates me even more. Can’t I mourn the fact that things haven’t gone according to plan for a little bit longer?

It’s now Thursday and we are playing the waiting game. At about 7 am I awake to a crack of thunder so loud, I half expect the trailer to split and burst into flames.

I should remind you that I am from Southern California.  We treat thunderstorms with the same childlike glee that we would Disneyland, or Christmas.

As I lay under my covers with the rain drumming overhead, everything trembling with thunderous lightning, and light playing across the walls like a black and white movie, it occurs to me: I have nowhere to be today.

Glorious!

Later, I step outside with my chin tilted heavenward and stick out my tongue.  I can’t help but notice that the rain tastes a little like lemonade.

Life of the Privateer

Over the course of the day the rigs file in, a procession of competitors, so that by sun down the lot that was empty this morning has transformed into what will be known for the next 48 hours as the pro pits.  They house the greatest talents in motocross today, some of whom are making motocross history.

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Amongst them is Jordan Reynolds, a driven twenty-year-old with a broad, white smile and diamond studs in his ears. When I ask him where his pit is, he points to the nosebleeds.  “Life of the privateer,” he shrugs and shakes his head without a hint of bitterness.  With dad-mechanic-biggest fan in tow, along with his mom and sister, Thunder Valley is Jordan’s third pro motocross event, after Hangtown and his debut race last season at Lake Elsinore.

A couple hours later, Ian Chia, a privateer from Peru, stops by.  Ian is accompanied by his lovely girlfriend Sarah who will share the task of driving their trailer across America and back, for the entire Pro Motocross National series.

I am always impressed, not only by the will of the privateers, but by the commitment put forth from the company they keep.

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When I catch up with Jordan after qualifying, I ask him how it went. “I could have done better,” he replies, and it’s clear in his momentary downward glance that he is his harshest critic.  He immediately recovers, “I learned a lot though. And I guess I did better than last time.” He recounts the morning, the highs and lows, and as something of an afterthought tells me that he hardly felt his shoulder until he got to the whoops. He had failed to mention earlier that he had dislocated his shoulder last week at Hangtown. Having just dislocated my elbow snowboarding six months ago, I shudder at the thought of suffering through the joint-yanking whoops section aboard the hulking piece of metal that is a motocross bike with a fresh dislocation. As my mind pauses on this thought, Jordan is already talking about his next event, Washougal, and all the training and working out he plans to do between now and then, and I smile because I’m looking forward to his return.

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On Saturday evening, Ian drops by on his way out.  He and Sarah are already heading out to get a head-start on the drive to Tennessee. With a holeshot and fastest lap of 2:16 that morning, Ian would have been in great standings to compete in the main. But he was flagged, and docked his fastest lap, losing his chance.  “Tennessee will be good,” he smiles. He knows he’s close enough to grasp it. He’s ready to race against the best.

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Later, as our truck and trailer trudge east through the golden morning, I think of the privateers, and in that moment, I feel the Dawn all around me.

Remembering Decoration Day

On a day in May, when winter’s freeze gave way to thaw, the women collectively exhaled, and their paralysis gave way to grief. The spring sun emerged, and with it, the realization that their boys were not coming home to frolic under another summer sun.

The mothers and wives and daughters gathered at the solemn sites of their beloved, watering the land with their great tears. The sun shone down life, the gravesites were decorated in blooms, and another summer was born.

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The War between the States drew to a close. Families, communities, and the young country America, had been ravaged. Even those who had been victorious in battle, stood solemn in their glory.

It has been 148 years since the Civil War, and still, every May we gather to decorate the stones of our dead and to remember.

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I am driving through Nebraska where it is cool and drizzly and green. The inaugural summer sun is absent, along with the traditional Memorial Day backyard BBQs and bikinis.

I pull over at a site marked Paxton Cemetery: 1897 where American flags corral a gathering of headstones. They are decorated with prayers and flowers laid by loving hands.

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Happy Memorial Day America, I whisper. I will remember.

Grassroots America

Grassroots. It implies the power of the individual. It brings pride to the collective. Grassroots is self-made and self-driven. It’s acting locally, and expanding globally. Grassroots is starting from the ground up.

I am on week one of a fourteen week cross-country roadtrip, looking to experience America at the grassroots level.

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I begin my journey with this query: what roots do we share as Americans?

When compared with other developed countries, we did not rate very high in employment or math skills. Certainly not all of us are living the American dream; in fact, we rank quite low when it comes to income equality. But, curiously, we rank amongst the highest in confidence.

Perhaps it is the belief that we can be the best, the belief that we are capable of achieving, the belief that persistence yields results, that unites us as Americans.

Americans seek travel and adventure; we want to be moved by something, be it religion, or politics, or art. But we are rooted in our belief that we are the masters of our own universe, capable of carving out for ourselves, the lives that we imagined…

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So is this the life I imagined? Living in a trailer, following the Pro Motocross series? Not exactly. But I did imagine that my life would be filled with adventure. That I would travel and write. Above all, I imagined a life where I was free. Free from the confines of four walls and the accumulation of stuff. Free to look up to a cloudless night sky and see myriad stars.