By Trent Rentsch
It’s funny, even as we skidded towards the edge of the bridge, I knew we were going to be okay. After all, your life is supposed to flash before your eyes right before you die. The only things flashing at that moment were the past 3 days.
The constant reader already knows a bit of my back story, but the rest of you deserve a bit of a set-up. I live in Raleigh, NC, while my 3 children live with their Mother in South Dakota. I parent as best anyone can, considering the 1,200 miles distance, and since quantity of time together is difficult, I do my best to make every second we do spend together count.
I had already planned a Thanksgiving visit when I got the phone call. My middle child Nick was going to turn 17 Thanksgiving weekend, it was a couple of weeks away, so I was expecting a list of presents he was hoping for. When his Mother got on the phone too, I knew it was more.
“Dad... I’ve decided that Keegan (his 15 year old brother) and I are driving to Chicago the weekend you are here to see a concert for my birthday. I wanted you to know that we aren’t avoiding you, and we’ll see you Thanksgiving and before you leave. Just wanted you to know.”
Stunned, I still managed to do the Fatherly math. 2 teenagers plus 9 hour road trip on a holiday weekend plus spending several nights alone in Chicago. Let’s see, that equals... no.
Luckily, my Ex-wife was on the same page, and was only hoping for my back-up. What followed was some very mature screaming, whining, and begging. My comment that finally prompted the big hang up was, “Hey, I’m gonna be up there anyway... why don’t I go with you guys?”
“YOU DON’T TRUST US!” Click!
And that was it, really. Until 4 days before Thanksgiving and the 2nd call.
“Dad, I’ve decided you can come along.”
More Fatherly math. Flight to South Dakota on Thanksgiving Day plus 9 hour drive to Chicago Friday plus two nights of concerts with a band I’ve never heard of plus another 9 hour drive back to South Dakota on Sunday, plus a flight back to North Carolina the following Monday. That equals... damn. Well, when you point the gun, you gotta be ready to pull the trigger. So, despite a million “why nots” bouncing around my brain, I agreed to our big adventure.
Nick insisted on driving his Jeep the entire way, what with it being “his car” and all. As it turned out, he’s become a great driver, and all I really had to do was navigate. He got us all the way to the hotel on Michigan Ave., the entire trip underscored by music from “Moe,” the band we were going to see. To say that I got to know their music is something of an understatement.
Off to the concert, night one. Yes, we went to both nights Moe played. I was told we “had to.” We wait in line. I appear to be the oldest person in line... even the guy checking ID’s for booze wrist bands seems to be wearing Grranimals. If you haven’t heard of Moe (like me, before this all came up), they are kind of a Grateful Dead for this generation’s hippies (read: the grandchildren of Hippie 1.0). Not that the music is the same — edgier, more hard-rock-influenced than the Dead. Still, the audience makes it feel like a trip back in time (and believe me, MANY trips were being taken in that auditorium).
Despite feeling like a prehistoric fish out of water, I really liked their music, and much to the embarrassment of my sons, really got into it. The biggest surprise came when Moe introduced their special guest for the evening… Rick Nielson from Cheap Trick! It was both a thrill and the most aging moment of the night. They ripped into “Surrender.” This came out about the time I was Nick’s age, and I remember playing it over and over. Now I’m standing there with my son as Rick sings, “Mommie’s alright! Daddy’s alright! They just seem a little weird… Surrender! Surrender!! But don’t give yourself away!!” Despite that blatant attempt to make me feel like I needed a walker, it was a great show.
I would say “Great” would be the word to describe the entire trip. We saw all the sites, ate the deep dish pizza, danced with the Hippie Grandchildren both nights in the pit, laughed, talked, connected. Every negative I imagined never appeared. Unfortunately, one I never imagined did.
We were nearly back in South Dakota, outside a small town in Minnesota, when Nick’s jeep fishtailed slightly, and we realized the mist was freezing on the road. He was nervous, but was smart enough to slow down. As we neared a bridge we saw a police car with its light flashing and another jeep that had slammed into the bridge. I didn’t have to tell him to start creeping along, but the ice had other ideas.
It was like a movie, really. Slow motion… we began to swerve, spin. We do a 180, sliding towards the edge of the bridge… and somehow stop without hitting anything. But, gee, there are other cars behind us… one of which goes through the same motion we did and is headed sideways towards us, surely it was going to bump us off the bridge. You may not believe in angels, I personally think all three of us had a guardian angel looking over us at that moment, as the other car came to rest literally a coat of paint away from the jeep.
Over the years I’ve given a lot of lip service to Creatives staying out of their comfort zone, experiencing new places and ideas to expand their knowledge base and stay fresh. Later, after we got over the shock of what almost was and headed for the nearest hotel for the night, I realized that I had taken my own advice for the first time in a long time. Every moment of that trip, even the terrifying ones, were treasures... both bonding experiences with my sons and creative nuggets I could re-fill my well with. It reminded me to remind you that, in this new year, you might try something new. But between us, I’d try a jam band before sliding off a bridge.