Long Ride Home

Kentucky straight bourbon is not to be trifled with. And yet, here I am, trifling.

15-year-old, 107 proof Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve is aged in “deep-charred heavy oak” barrels in Frankfurt, Kentucky. It is “untouched by human hands.” It is “unhurried by time.” And it is caustic stuff.

Joseph and I sprinted to the liquor store across Bardstown Road from Ear X-Tacy at the height of Orlando gridlock to do some quick shopping. “What do you all drink?” he asked. “Van Winkle, for sure,” the clerk responded. And so each of us made off with a bottle.

Back in my Nashville hotel some three hours later, I poured myself a glass. The smell alone gave me goose bumps. Still, I choked it down, and relishing the resulting warmth that spread through me. Then I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Waking up in another town often feels like a dream. Running full on into one’s heroes only exacerbates that feeling. And so when I saw Cameron enter the record shop on Saturday, I reminded myself, ‘This is real. This is what you do.’

It’s difficult to meet one’s heroes. I don’t have many: Fred Rogers, Michael Stipe, and Cameron Crowe. I’ve met them all. And I’ve told them all how much they’ve meant to me. But I’m always left wanting more. Aren’t we all? Don’t we all want to be friends? Or worse, don’t we all want to be their children?

I do. I admit it.

I’ve had some terrific parenting. My mother carried a heavy load. And my father remained absolutely present despite the thousand miles between us. But it doesn’t quell this unexplainable urge to be schooled, guided, nurtured — cuddled even — by these great figures of the heart. ‘Cuz that’s it, really, isn’t it? Mr. Rogers, Michael Stipe, and Cameron Crowe share one thing in common: heart, and lots of it.

So much of our culture is governed by the head, or worse, the crotch. Not these guys. They tell simple stories. They remind us how to feel. They’re not afraid to be uncool, or unpopular.

I’ve had some time to think about you
And watch the sun set like a stone
I’ve had some time to think about you
On the long ride home

I’ve had some time to think about meeting Cameron. I watched the sun fall over the rolling hills of Kentucky Saturday night, the moonrise over Tennessee Sunday night, and the sun set again as I flew in over Manhattan tonight. Each time I thought, ‘What does it all mean? Why are you here? Why did you go there?’

Per usual, I’m not quite sure. I think Cameron’s galvanized my confidence in my heart. He’s demonstrated, time and again, warmth beats cold, engaged trumps detached, hope succeeds cynicism, and openness beats closure. It is a more difficult path, to be sure.

Is there any other way?

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