Last night Nick and I picked up his friend Xavier and we took them to an event to raise money for their school robotics club. I just dropped them off. I could tell that Nick didn’t have any plans for me to stay. After their deal, which I guess took up the evening from 5 until 10 p.m., Nick stayed the night at Xavier’s house. I had no idea when he was coming home but let it lie. I figured he would get home at a time he thought was right.
Despite my faith in him, I called him today when I was on the way to an AA meeting and asked when he planned to arrive back at our house. When Nick talks on the phone, the best you can get out of him is a grunt or one-word answer.
How was the deal? I asked. Did you have fun? What did you do? Grunt, yeah, not much, he said. When’re you coming home? I asked. “I don’t know . . . “ he answered.
Nick is very noncommittal about a lot of things. He just doesn’t like to be put on the spot or pressed too hard. I understand that he has his own way, but I’m kind of impatient sometimes.
“Well, guess what time you’ll be home,” I said. “Give me something to hang on here.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “About 2 or 3.” He said Xavier’s parents would be bringing him home.
That was good enough. I could plan my day—reading and futzing—around that. At least I got him to think about where his day would wind up.
When he did arrive home about 3, I had already done some reading and taken a nap. I asked him what he did today.
“Well, we just hung out, you know. We played some video games . . . “
I thought that was going to be it. Then, he added as an afterthought: “Oh, yeah, we walked over to the Plaza and then just wandered around.”
“No kidding,” I said.
“We stopped in at the Tesla store and designed the interiors for our cars on the computer.”
“They let kids do that?” I said.
“Well, they let us do it.”
The whole thing was pretty cool, I thought. Xavier lives just east of Troost about a mile and a half from the Plaza.
When Nick told me they walked out on their own, it reminded me of the first time Grandma let my uncle Phil and me go down to the Plaza from 4700 Terrace. We were younger than Nick and Xavier–we were probably eleven or so. She gave us money to buy shakes at the Woolworth’s.
I was a little frightened. Phil acted like he was an old pro. He had been to the Plaza many times with his older brother Chris. As much as Phil might have been used to this, the outing was a very big deal for me. It was my first big journey away from the Terrace house. It was my first big trip anywhere on my own.
Living on the outer edge of the city, I didn’t have much to do or anywhere good to walk. We lived in a “nice” neighborhood on a busy street. Blocks and blocks of identical houses spread out behind us. Across the street, empty fields ran out to another neighborhood about a quarter mile away.
There were no sidewalks in my neighborhood. The farthest away from home I ever got was the street behind us, where I rode my hand-me-down bike at my peril. The bike was twice as big as I was, and I couldn’t ride well. The Campbells, the meanest kids in the neighborhood, controlled that street. When they saw me coming, I’d jump off the bike, which I couldn’t maneuver well, and ran. If I didn’t run fast enough, Bobby and Tommy beat the hell out of me.
Phil’s neighborhood interested me more than my own. Tons of kids ran his block. We could ride our bikes without people like the Campbells running their Stingrays into our 1950s-era tubs. Grandma often sent us out of the house and told us to stay outside. We’d play until hunger drew us back home. Then, after a baloney sandwich and some cookies, we ran out until dinner time. Sometimes we stayed out until dark.
The day Grandma sent us off to the Plaza, the sun peeked on and off through the clouds. Phil and I wore jackets against the early spring chill. We hit the open air and tripped down the sidewalk. We walked past Swinney Elementary and descended the 47th Street hill filled the expansive feeling of being on our own. No one was looking after us. We could do what we wanted. When we got to the corner of 47th and Madison, we could see the Plaza shopping district spread out before us. It was all ours.
Phil brought extra change with him so we could play pinball while we sipped our shakes at Woolworth’s. After, we banged around the Plaza for a long time. I don’t remember if we went into any stores or what else happened besides pinball and milkshakes. The feeling of adventure and freedom sticks with me, though. I can feel it now.
When Nick came home, we took off to walk the dogs the two miles they need every day. As he told me of his time with Xavier, I remembered my first trip to the Plaza with Phil. What interested me was that Nick’s journey didn’t seem to be a big deal for him. He just felt he could do on his own. He didn’t call to ask. Permission from Xavier’s dad was good enough. He had the confidence to walk into that Tesla place and get on the computers without feeling self-conscious.
At one point, I said, wow, you guys walked four or more miles today. “Nah,” he said, “it didn’t seem that far.”
I must be doing something right, I thought.
As I think about Nick and his friend now, I wonder what those salespeople thought about two kids nerdy enough to know about the Tesla and savvy enough to dream of their ideal options, fabrics, and finishes.