I Can’t Drive 55

I’m pretty certain it was a 55 zone, though it could have been a 65 zone, I don’t know, the blur of the moment clouds any definitive recollection. Either way, it’s not like they were going to ticket me, right? Or would they?

I find it interesting how the news of the day serves to propel me back in time, providing consistent flashbacks of some random moments of my life. I assume this happens to everyone, to varying degrees. Before, when something would hit, I’d be like, ‘wow, that reminds me of…’ and 30 seconds later I would have moved on to the next pressing demand of my then-so-busy life.

It seems now, when encumbered by the reality of life with a terminal illness (f#ck ALS), I seem to spend quite a bit more time in that state of reflection. Where previously that 30-second flashback would provide a quick endorphin rush of nostalgia, now these events turn into hours of aimless wandering through my memories, reminiscing about moments long passed.

Today, the news that triggered the flashback scenario was the death of Coolio. I know… what? Yes, Coolio. Let me explain – in my customary, roundabout way. 🙂

It’s late February 1996. I’ve been up to my eyeballs in negotiations to sell my business. We’ve spent the last several months bolstered by sky-high expectations and flirting with a major breakthrough, all while concurrently staring straight into the abyss.

I’ve been working 80-90 hour weeks trying to keep it all together with baling wire and bubble gum. Now I need (yes, need) to make a last-minute trip to Vegas for meetings at a convention that I didn’t expect to attend.

Oh, I might have failed to mention, top off all that craziness with the fact that my wonderful wife also happens to be seven months pregnant with our first offspring.

Stress? What stress? Good times.

At first, I had some trepidation about making the trip. But the meetings were important and I was assured the kid wasn’t due for six weeks or so… I’ve got plenty of time. Famous. Last. Words.

I get to Vegas and get settled in. It’s your basic Monday in Sin City, and I’ll be here all week. I check in on the wife and the office and, confirming all is fine on the eastern front, I head off to find a BlackJack table with my name on it. Next thing I know, it’s 2:00 AM and I’m sitting with a FAT stack of chips in front of me. I’m thinking this success foreshadows a killer week. Then I remember that I do actually have some work this week, so I head back to the room. And, yes, I did that ever so rare thing where you walk away from the table with chips. Try it sometime. 🙂

I get back up to the room, and through the fog of being 2:00 AM and the evaporating rush of my big win I see the hotel phone is blinking. That’s weird. I check voicemail. Holy crap. That kid that was supposed to come in about five weeks just couldn’t wait to get into the real world. It was O’dark thirty on the east coast and Melanie had to call a friend to get her to the hospital, stat.

Obviously, I’m a frantic mess. It was 2:00 AM, I might have had an adult soda or two (or…), and I needed to get to the airport, stat. (I like saying ‘stat’ – it seems both relevant and important).

Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed, specifically Melanie, as she took on the additional labor (pun intended) 🙂 of making all my flight changes from her hospital room. What a girl. I just needed to keep it together enough to get to the airport.

Still, this was an unmitigated disaster. I was completely freaking out. I had a three-hour wait, a five-hour flight, and a 90-minute drive to get home. If I missed the birth, I was going to absolutely lose it. Man, I know one thing for sure, this kid was so grounded when it got here.

From there, the day was a blur. The ladies at the ticket counter obviously could sense my anxiety, and after hearing my story bumped me up to first class. The flight and drive were uneventful, but by the time I got to the hospital it was around 4:00 PM. Melanie had been there about eleven hours already… little did we know, she was just getting started.

Funny aside. One of my distinct memories of labor was that little Richter scale machine that measured the size and frequency of contractions. I remember watching the scale and would tell Melanie “oooh, here comes a big one.” You younger guys, Pro Tip: Don’t do that. Trust me.

Anyway, after 34 hours of labor, the kid finally showed up (yes, you read correctly, 34 – and you thought I was going to ground baby, well mama was way past that). Baby was about four weeks earlier than scheduled, a couple of pounds short of a full meal deal, and a distinct shade of yellow reserved for baby chickens. Hmm. This is my first rodeo, so I’m not sure what’s up. I was assured it would be fine, and I needed to move on to the next task of deciding on a name.

Simple enough. We had been talking about it for months. But when it came time, we couldn’t pull the trigger. By the end of Day 2, they told us we couldn’t have a birth cert or leave the hospital until we named the thing. Fine. I open the Baby Name book and blurt out the name at the top of page one, “Aaron” – that’ll do.

Of note, the kid should be glad it was a Baby Name book and not a full-on Dictionary, or he might have been named Aardvark. 🙂

On Day 3, we’re finally set to be released back into the great big outside world. We load the kid into the rig, and head to the highway. Then it hits me… I have a baby – on board (hey, that gives me an idea…) 🙂 This changes everything. Including my driving.

So as we merge onto the Interstate, I notice all the crazies passing me like I’m standing still. Morons. Then I look down and realize I’m doing 25 MPH, in a 55, and I have my hazards on. Awkward. My only saving grace from total dorkdom is that ‘Gangster’s Paradise’ is blasting from the speakers.

And that provided for an indelible memory of a snapshot in time. The juxtaposition of driving like an octogenarian – with a baby on board – while cranking out a tune from a quasi-rapper. Thanks for that, Coolio.

Over the years it has become a funny flashback story. If we’re out driving and the song came on, whoever is at the wheel will inevitably mock me by dropping to 25 in a 55 and throwing the hazards on. Real funny.

In fact, when Aardvark, I mean Aaron, and I were in GA last summer we were traveling that same freeway. He threw Gangster’s Paradise on, and together we belted out some lyrics… while slowing to 25 with the hazards on.

It was a great moment and we had a lot of fun with it… I mean, it’s not like they’re going to ticket me, right?

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