I’ve been planning to visit my family in Kansas this week for a long time. When I woke up Sunday morning at 4:30 a.m. and drove to the airport, I wasn’t smiling. After arriving more than two hours early for my flight and still landing in a 100-yard line for the check in counter, my grip tightened on my luggage. When I was yelled at for not closing the three-foot gap that had opened up in front of me, I went into full Grinch mode and turned to offer the barking traveler a stare with quickly silenced his commentary. Traveling pretty much sucks any time of year, but during the holidays, wow. They should leave bars open 24 hours across the country.
But things got better. While head-bobbing and waiting to board the flight, I heard some noise from behind me that turned out to be a soldier returning from the sand that was juking and jiving to what I guessed to be rap music. One of his buddies gave him a nod, so he pulled off the microphones and raised his eyebrows in anticipation for his question. The older solider, who had a burned hand, asked the dancing one, “What are you doing while you’re back?” The more animated solider broke into a huge smile and shouted back, “Man, I’m locking myself in the house with my girlfriend and a big bottle of booze and I’m not coming out till it’s time to come back!” Then he slapped a loud high-five and put his headphones back on.
Finally, I was laughing as I thought to myself, Amen, brother, you go and do just that. You deserve it. Then I began to realize how good I have it. There sure as hell aren’t any IEDs sitting behind my desk at Racer Productions.
When the stewardess came over the radio and served notice that we were landing, I looked over the familiar flat plains of my home state of Kansas. I tried to guess what part of the state I was looking at and tried to see if I could find any of the tracks I used to race at. I just kind of chuckled to myself and thought about all of the visors and fenders I had left scattered around down there somewhere.
After a smooth landing, I held my breath until I saw my luggage come around the carrousel. As I reached down to grab my bag, I heard a child’s voice yell, “Daddy! Daddy!” I turned to see a four-year-old girl run into the arms of a man wearing army fatigues. He clutched her tightly with a scarred hand clenched tightly in the back of her long brown hair. Everyone around baggage claim shared a large happy sigh.
I loaded me and my girl up and began driving toward home. As we reached Kansas City I took a glance over my shoulder and pointed out the ominous grandstands of the Kansas Speedway: “Man, we almost had one over there this year.“ No sooner did I say those words than my cell phone vibrated and I looked down to read the words “Wheel Man.” I answered, and before I could say hello, Clint asked me to guess where he was. I hadn’t a clue; with him it could have been anywhere. I did know he had just picked up his new motor coach and was driving it home to Kansas. Again, before I could guess, he told me he had parked beside Boone Hill and was overlooking the track at Loretta Lynn’s. Talking a mile a minute like he always does, he went on to say, “I was driving down the road and saw that sign that said Loretta’s Kitchen and, damn it, I just had to stop. It seems like I was just here, but, hell, it’s been over 12 years!”
He added something to the effect of, “It’s weird being here this time of year without all the leaves on the trees but, man, I still got that nervous feeling when I looked over at the starting line.” He goes 200 mph 36 weekends a year and he still gets nervous at just looking at the start at Loretta Lynn’s. I guess motocross just doesn’t wash off.
I finally reached the 127-mile marker on I-35 and passed the sign: Emporia. All of a sudden a huge wave of positive energy just took me over. A benevolent tractor beam was guiding me toward my parents’ house. I was beaming with the knowledge that my brothers and I were all going to be together at home for another Christmas. I glanced over and grabbed my girl’s hand, and as I kissed the back of it, I read her bracelet that reads, “Happiness is a choice.” It sure is. Being angry and depressed takes effort. If you just stop and take a look around, it usually doesn’t take long to see so many beautiful things and realize how lucky we all are to be alive and breathing.
I just wanted to share a couple good things I saw on my trip and what I thought was a pretty cool moment of irony. I want to wish all of you a warm and happy holiday. Please enjoy the time together with your families and do your best to keep those who cannot be with theirs in your thoughts.