Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Rangely Rifle

Thanks to the world of virtual communication, I was reminded by the lords (or the lards I am not sure which) of Facebook, which is not by the way to be confused with The Lords of Flatbush (as if it could be!) that today is my friend Loku's birthday. Full disclosure demands that in my sieve-like mind "being reminded" is a feeling eerily similar to being "informed". Gun to my head I recall not whether I have ever been aware (on either side of the century line) that today is the birthday of the man we used to call the "Nepalese Nightmare" in the hallowed halls of Farrand Hall. Whether I am being reminded of it today or it is information that I have finally processed in its entirety for the first time here in 2010 matters not. Today is his birthday and I hope like Hell that he has a happy one.

He and I have known one another for what seems like a million years. It sometimes seems longer than a million years, such as when I look at a photo of either of us now as opposed to one from college and see gray and/or white hair having overrun the well-established outposts of darker, vintage shades that once resided there in peace. I think that other than one visit Margaret and I had from Schneeds shortly after we had gotten married, Loku is the only one of my college friends who I have seen face-to-face in the twenty-plus years since graduation. Perhaps if I tried sneaking up on, instead of announcing when I was going to be in the vicinity of, one of them he or she would be easier to catch. Thus far, no such luck.

Margaret has not only had the good fortune of meeting Loku in the years since he and I roamed the wilds of Boulder, but she and I have both met his wife and their children. The longer you live, the move life becomes compartmentalized: a particular person or group of people becomes associated with a specific time or place. Scant little interaction may take place between a person from one era and a person from another era. I have enjoyed being able to bridge the gap between a piece of my past and my present by introducing Margaret to one of my comrades in arms from "back in the day".

As much chaos as we enjoyed creating together while we were both undergrads at CU, my most vivid, laugh out loud memory of Loku is one of an experience shared after we had both graduated. Loku decided to return to Boulder for the Fall 1990 semester to further his education. At the time he and his parents lived in suburban Virginia, a short drive from Washington DC. He had one bad-ass Hyundai Excel (bear in mind it was circa 1990 "bad ass") and was packing it up, preparing to drive it across these United States to Boulder. His parents thought it might be a good idea for him to not drive cross-country alone and having never met me, actually thought it might be a good idea for me to be Ku's co-pilot.

We actually drove fairly purposefully cross-country but the rapidity of our journey neither (a) prevented us from appreciating how much prettier the American Midwest looks out of the window of a jumbo jet - especially in late August; nor (b) kept us from having one hellaciously fine time as we made our great migration West. Our journey got off to a hysterical - and decidedly death-defying turn - in West Virginia on Day One. We stopped at a jam packed McDonald's at the height of the lunch rush. Much to the delight of the patrons, all of whom save for two (guess which two) were wearing "JOHN DEERE" baseball caps, upon reaching the counter Loku - who speaks the King's English - decided it would be fun to pretend that he spoke the language exactly as all of our new redneck friends presumed he would.

Even in the late summer heat of West Virginia, once he started placing his order things in the Mickey D's got perceptibly chillier than they had been moments earlier. While it had been our intention to eat our food there, it became quickly apparent to us that the only chance of our lunch being a happy meal without simultaneously being our last one was to saddle up the Excel and go. Once we safely got out of town alive, I stopped contemplating just how close to death young Olivier had walked us with his cheeseburger soliloquy. When Hugh Laurie takes on an accent in a performance, it merits Emmy consideration. When Loku did it, it almost earned us matching toe tags.

Our final full day on the road was spent traversing the great state of Kansas. Anyone who does not think that Dorothy's being wasted on all of those poppies on the Road to Oz is the only reasonable explanation for her unquenchable desire to return to Kansas has never seen Kansas in all of its splendor under the heat of the summer sun. From East to West on the Interstate Kansas was approximately six hundred and fifty miles. I know not whether the engineers at Hyundai intended the 1990 Excel to travel at 80+ miles per hour for upwards of eight hours. Never having ridden in the car once we successfully landed in Boulder I know not whether Loku's Excel ever recovered from the beating we gave it to get cross-country.

Life is what you make of it so on our final full day driving West we were happy to make camp in Salinas, Kansas. Happy solely because it was relatively close to the Colorado border. We found a place to stay and found ourselves some local fare to eat. OK, it was a Pizza Hut but it was located within the city limits. I remember it being one of the most lifeless restaurants in which I have ever dined in my life. And I remember as well Loku's non-brown, non-American car standing out in the parking lot like Dotty's ruby red slippers. Apparently, not a lot of Americans of Nepalese descent stop in the Pizza Hut in Salinas Kansas, judging by the looks we got as we sat at our table eating our food.

On the way out, it was my turn to test the limits of our hosts' hospitality. I told Loku that I wanted to play some selections on the juke box, which was jammed full of both kinds of music - country and western. Inexplicably, there was an entire row of selections on the juke box of New Wave-type music that had likely had never been played anywhere in Kansas, least of all in the Pizza Hut. Truth be told, I have never been a particular fan of that genre of music myself but thought - for shits and giggles - how funny it would be to leave about ten or twelve such tunes queued up and ready to play on the juke box. So I did, dropping quarters and punching buttons as quickly as I could in an effort to get as many as possible loaded into the machine's memory before the needle dropped on the first selection. I ran out of the front door of the Pizza Hut and flew into the passenger side of Loku's car just as the first strains of Echo and the Bunnymen or some such artist started to permeate the silence of the Pizza Hut. For all we know, the folks inside not only did not hate the music, they got out of their seats and started to dance. We did not stick around to find out.

My cross-country adventure with today's birthday boy represents the one and only time I have ever had the experience of driving across America's heartland. While it it not something I would make a regular habit of (or ever do again unless Rob needs a co-pilot on any future migration East), it is something worth doing at least one time. All you need is a fast car and a good traveling companion. Or at least one of the two.

Happy Birthday to my old Farrand Hall neighbor and friend. On your birthday, always remember that while happiness may not be Salinas, Kansas in the rear-view mirror, it sure as hell is not a bad first step.


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