A Lone Star – The Day After

Crossing into Texas from the Oklahoma border (‘Drive Friendly – The Texas Way’), the grass got browner, the sky got wider, the sun got brighter, and the country music got louder.

Experiencing Texas, a location on My Top Ten List, unfortunately only lasted three hours. Driving through north Texas to Oregon – while racing trains and snow – I saw the sky actually curve around the flat edges of the earth.

“You can put your boots in the oven, but it don’t make them biscuits,” a deep voice drawled over the radio station. The old Texas saying, according to the man selling work clothes, reminds us to stay true to ourselves.

Staying true to my Texas self, I only listened to country music for three hours while passing an abandoned jet ski on the freeway shoulder, a billboard promoting a FREE 72-oz. steak, the tallest and thickest church cross (ever), Stuff-It Taxidermy, black cows grazing in fields near white future-sustaining windmills, the National Quarter Horse Museum, and patiently freeing landscapes.

I wanted to stay longer in Texas. I wanted to delve into its cities and run across an open field. But with only three very fast hours, I had to somehow enjoy and accept the fleeting moments blurring outside the window.

Choosing what to focus on, as we always do, I tried to find a place of peace to simply feel each moment. Since it was the day after the End Of The World (which I was rather abnormally worried about), I was even more grateful of my time in the Lone Star state. But I was clinging onto each blade of grass passing by, each motionless cloud in the sky, each large church cross on the side of the road. It was a challenge to accept the end of each moment as a new one approached, and passed, again, and again.

But, looking back, I remember my time in Texas vividly. Each sense heightened, each moment a gift, each feeling somehow excruciatingly true. Letting go in those moments, even while knowing that they will end.


The Cracker Barrel-ing Experience

Kansas has been an experience of firsts: first NFL game, first time watching Space Balls, first gun show, first country fried steak (CFS), and first time at a restaurant that has the word Cracker in it.

Fascinated by the name, and the common expressions of comfort that glide over people’s faces when I reference the Cracker Barrel restaurant in conversations, I simply could not miss the opportunity for this “first” experience.

It did not disappoint.

I devoured my first CFS and all the sides: mashed potatoes, carrots, hash brown casserole, biscuits, cornbread. All concern about ordering that much food – especially when the waitress kept forcing me to make so many decisions – dissipated after dinner as I stared at my clean plate. It was worth every bite.

The southern-comfort-style restaurant chain sealed my quest of CFS exploration during my time in Kansas – wondering if there was another CFS that could equal that self-revelatory experience of the first.

The search continued at Weller’s – one of Topeka’s many sports bars. Here I began to notice the back of my elbows rubbed raw from spending so much time laughing and resting on the beer-filmed tables. Dinner appeared with broccoli covered in Velveeta, the highlight of the meal, but the steak was thicker, fattier, and slightly too unpredictable.

We returned to Cracker Barrel for breakfast – replacing the hash brown casserole with creamy grits. The CFS was good, but still did not compare to that first experience. The intruding presence of the egg added a layer of guilt since I wasn’t eating all of it, so that may have also compromised meal’s integrity.

But then, unexpectedly, something blew our hypothesis apart. We thought that humanity often searches to return and recreate the feelings associated with “first time” events: first beer, first drag, first kiss, first chicken fried steak.

At Blind Tiger, Topeka’s microbrewery, I found the CFS that was meant to complete that part of my soul that was gaping open and yearning for the perfect CFS. The homemade breading melted in my mouth, covering an honest and thick steak.

That was the CFS that was right for me. The Cracker Barrel experience, though, will always remain so dear in my heart – it was the first impression, the first taste, the first foray, the first experience. Without that first chicken fried steak, I could never have known what was possible, I could never have found the one that was meant to be.

(See Chicken Fried, Zac Brown Band)

Summer Beers

It has been two years since your death. Two years since I got the voice mail on my phone. Two years since I pulled over at a McDonald’s after surpassing a snowy mountain road. To sit. To cry. To uncomprehend what happened.

Tonight, I watched the sun set over your hometown mountains. I felt love – easy, pure, true love that comes from an unforeseen force. It is the same love I felt at your memorial at Kam III in Maui. When we all paddled out and circled the ocean. When we cracked Busch Lights in your honor. When we held each other and watched the pictured memories float by on a screen. When we forgave each other, and when we loved each other through your heart.

Dropping down into Fort Collins today, into your roots, tears sucked my breath as the radio stations picked songs that meant everything. Our first connection made over Summer Beers discussing Western mountain homes, staying up all night to witness a Hawaiian sunrise in the seamless ocean, capturing moments of laughter in a group of sun-wielding friends, and, of course, always, with love reigning down.

Your life taught me love. And your death taught me what it means to love.

Mahalo you, my friend. Mahalo you.

I miss you dearly.

(See Led Zeppelin, When the Levee Breaks; The Who, Love Reign O’er Me; Ke$ha Feat, Die Young; The Fray, How to Save a Life)