“What kind of beast is your salamander?” asked the Prince. “It is hard to tell their kind, your Honor,” said Golg. “For they are too…
It was a warm Wednesday in May. As we drove through Denver on I-25 South, a few wispy clouds softened the light blue sky while a slight brown haze hovered over the city. About a mile before our Colfax Avenue exit, we drove by Coors Field to the east, home of the Colorado Rockies baseball team. Seeing the park almost always leads us to reminisce about a road trip we took over a decade earlier. “We need to do that one again,” JMo says. “West coast,” I reply.
In July of 2010, JMo, his dad Ron, and I drove to Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit, and Chicago where we took in four baseball games in four days, drove a few thousand miles in between, all the while lifting JMo in and out of a 1999 Silver Jeep Grand Cherokee.
By 2010, after four years of quadriplegia, JMo had learned how to re-navigate his life. With courage born of harsh reality, he dealt with it, first to stay sane, and then to experience what often eludes even the most able-bodied among us; comfort, purpose, relationship, growth, moments of joy, moments of normalcy.
At that point, Ron had modified their house so that his son could be rolled around back and on to a small elevator platform. A switch engaged the small motor that raised JMo and his chair to a deck separated from the home’s living area by a sliding glass door – the room where he had slept on the mattress laid out on the hardwood floor the first night back home. JMo also had a bedroom of his own now on the same floor which had been tricked out with an accessible bathroom.
This was prior to the purchase of a chin-drive wheelchair so JMo needed someone to help him get around. However, with the house modifications and a plywood ramp to get up and over the curb on the street, JMo had relatively easy access to the neighborhood, including my house across the way.
This is the relaxed atmosphere in which our unconventional baseball road trip was born. Music washed out of the garage and into the neighborhood. A muted Detroit Tigers game was playing on the TV in a make-shift living area. A ping-pong table and an old fridge full of beverages were at the ready; three or four drinks in, when guys like us come up with our best ideas.
Very often, the sobriety of the next day puts those ideas to rest; not this time. On Sunday afternoon, I walked over to Ron’s house where he was working under the hood of his 1968 Mustang while JMo watched the Colorado Rockies on their garage TV. As we chatted, it was clear that the road trip suggestion had grown some roots. What started out as a “bucket-list maybe-someday” conversation subtly shifted from “if” to “how” and then to “when.” It seems as if the whole thing just talked itself into existence; in no small part, I can say now in retrospect, because JMo had come so far in healing the spirit of his broken body that his enthusiasm simply carried the day; a 23 year-old college student who was well on his way to grabbing as much “normal” as there was to be had. And, at 23, what’s more normal than exercising a complete lack of impulse control? It occurs to me now that once the idea was planted in JMo’s brain on Saturday night, there was no way we were NOT going to do it.
Potential obstacles were pointed out, some that might rise to the level of a 911 call far from home; breathing problems, seizures. I’m not sure what else but I know now that there are a lot of things that can go wrong after breaking your neck in Kansas. JMo was unfazed.
Some of the problems were rather predictable and they arose from being away from all the accommodations that four years in that chair had already addressed. For instance, Ron said that they had built JMo’s bathroom for a reason. JMo responded that all we would need is a cheap canvas lawn chair with a hole cut into the seat: problem solved.
On the following Saturday morning we packed up the Jeep including JMo’s collapsible chair, and raced off to see the Kansas City Royals on a sultry night while drowning ourselves in quarts of beer and perspiring the night away as the home team came up short against the visiting Oakland A’s. The next morning we were off to St. Louis where the Cardinals scored three in the eighth inning and two in the ninth to get by the LA Dodgers 5-4. Along the way to Detroit that evening, we stopped at Target to purchase a lawn chair that Ron quickly mutilated.
The next day we arrived in Detroit hours before the Tigers squared off against the Texas Rangers. We parked in the “handicapper” spot [my word] directly in front of the main entrance gate and, for hours, had an absolute blast greeting a wide diversity of Tigers fans. The game started at 7pm and lasted five hours. After the Tigers had come back to tie it at 6 in the eighth inning, it wasn’t until the 14th that the Rangers scored two in the top of the inning and Detroit did nothing to answer. There was no way we had driven this far to skip out on this one early so it was probably 12:30 am Tuesday morning when we reached the JEEP with tickets in our pockets for that day’s Cubs game in Chicago.
We drove through much of the night and arrived at Wrigley Field in time to enjoy the daytime festivities. It was Tuesday afternoon but if you know anything at all about Cubs fans, you know that the time of day does little to inhibit their natural inclinations on game day. The usually lackluster Cubs pounded out 14 runs to double-up the Astros 14-7 behind 3 home runs and 7 RBIs from Aramis Ramirez. Even when losing, Cubs fans make the best of it; 14-7 is Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum fun.
By the time we got home on Wednesday, we were thoroughly exhausted. I know we bickered for a time. Maybe we even got testy with one another in the cramped quarters of the Jeep. And sleep was hard to come by in hotel rooms bathed in the notorious cacophony of Ron’s snoring and the equally disturbing beer-induced wind billowing from under someone else’s blanket.
What I really remember, though, what I cherish, what we all still cherish, is that the boys got together and cut up for a few days, drinking more than we should have – although we designated drivers. We told each other stories along the way, argued about what to play on the radio, and most importantly affirmed both our mutual love of baseball and our friendship.
There is now talk of doing it again but heading west this time; San Diego, LA Angels, the Dodgers, the Bay Area Giants and A’s, Seattle… We’re all a little older, perhaps a bit less impulsive so we might ponder this one a little longer… ponder whether we’ll drop by Topanga on our way up the coast.
Editor’s note: If you have enjoyed this series, consider a donation to help purchase a new wheelchair accessible van for JMo to be able to continue living an independent life as possible: https://www.gofundme.com/f/wishbone-needs-a-new-wheelchair-van