At 16, Nick is old enough now that he’s more of a renter in the house than someone who really needs parents. When it comes to regular, every-day activities—washing, eating, doing laundry—he does it on his own. He’d developed his routines and spends much of his time after school alone in his room doing what teens his age do: He plays on his device and watches a lot of videos, funny stuff, for the most part. Who knows how much porn he’s looking at, but when you give a kid a phone . . .
The fortunate thing for me is that the kid still talks to me. He’s not forthcoming. But when I ask him a question, he answers and easily falls into conversation. Every now and then, he approaches me with queries about what he needs to do to deal with this or that problem or challenge. I appreciate that. My father and I don’t really talk. When we speak to each other, general, harmless topics dominate the conversation. We aren’t close. But Nick, I think, feels like he can be open with me on just about any subject.
It sometimes gets hard to get him motivated, particularly when he’s ensconced with his device, comfortable in his bed, the cat next to him. But he’s a good kid and when given a chore, he does it, after a groan, generally right away.
So it was on Saturday. It was one of those warm fall days that leave me thinking about the lost summer and the coming, dark weather. The fall leaves were near or at their showiest, with flushes of orange and red flowing across the neighborhood. I didn’t want to do much, contenting myself with a book. But I thought a day like this ought not go wasted. It was time to drive, to see the color, and to witness what might not be around for more than a few days.
I rousted Nick. He groaned and asked what we had to do and why did we have to do it. “Come on,” I said. “Put your shoes on and let’s scoot.”
He took his time. It was clear he didn’t want to take a drive or do much of anything but sit in his room. I’ve learned not to push, to let him work his way into getting ready. I was patient.
“Do we gotta?” he asked, looking up from his shoes.
The way wasn’t sure. We climbed in the car and took off. Why not the road that takes the course of the Kansas River to Bonner Springs, a cute little down that looks for all the world like something you’d see in Oz. I had walked down that road when I took off on foot for Montana. It had been years, decades, since I’d seen that path in the daylight, though I had taken night drives that way several times over the years.
We headed out on a route I thought would put us on that road. Seeing it in the daylight, however, was much different than navigating at night. We’d get to where I thought we were supposed to turn and did, but then found ourselves driving northward away from the river. We headed back several times. We found ourselves in quarters of Kansas City, KS, strange to us.
By the time we started getting lost, Nick’s mood had changed. In his way, he’d eased himself into the notion that if he was going to have to go along on this escapade, he was going to enjoy it.
Though we had no idea where we were, we didn’t panic or get frustrated. Much of old Kansas City, KS, lie in a forest. The colors dazzled us. We took turns pointing out what we thought most spectacular. He tended the music on my device and listened to tunes and genres he’s yet to be exposed to.
And we talked about life, school, and politics. Of a liberal mind, he puzzled over the ways that people attempt to control each other’s behavior and thoughts. He revealed his belief that people ought not go to jail for marijuana possession. Mentioning the president’s recent shenanigans, he laughed about the absurdity of a billionaire philanderer being the nation’s leader. He talked about his school mates and what he wants to achieve with his after-school activities, particularly his membership with the Robotics Team.
He asked me questions. He wanted to know what I thought about the news, politics, and life in general. He knows I’m something of a socialist and wanted to know my mind about various subjects, including immigration and national defense. Though he doesn’t often think about it, he asked if I thought there was an afterlife. When I answered in the negative, he asked me why. That’s as far as that conversation went, as he’s reluctant to take very deeply about his own thoughts about godly matters.
When it became clear we would never find the river road, we resorted to the map app on my phone and followed directions to Bonner Springs. We knew once we arrived, we wanted to go to an ice-cream shop. We had taken a night drive there late last year, at night on the river road, but found that I’d left my wallet at home. This time, I had it secure in my pocket.
Instead of going straight to the shop, we took off out of town to see some of the open country I had walked through so many years ago on my way to Montana. Arriving at the small town of Linwood, I told him about walking into the gas station there in a heavy rainstorm. The storekeep had let me change my clothes in the restroom and set me up with a cup of coffee until the rain passed.
“Let me step out a minute, dad,” Nick said as we pulled into the parking lot. I asked him what was up. “I want to get a feel for the place.”
He walked down the road several hundred yards as I sat in the car. I watched his skinny frame amble up to the shoulder. He stopped and took a deep breath, or I imagine he did, and turned to come back.
“How was it?” I asked when he climbed back in the car.
“I don’t really have an idea how it must have felt for you to walk out in all this,” he said. “But it’s pretty big stuff. I can only imagine it was beautiful. Today, for instance, it must have been something.”
“It is,” I said. “Especially when your head empties out and there’s no time.”
“What do you mean, no time?” he asked.
“Well, when you forget about time. You get to a point where you don’t notice how time is passing. There’s nothing behind you and there’s only the next step in front of you.”
“Must be magnificent,” he said.
“Yeah, it’s pretty good.”
We headed back to Bonner Springs and stopped in at the ice-cream shop. It sat on the river road, which we took all the way back to downtown Kansas City. But it had changed in the 22 years since I walked it before. There was more industry, more development. It wasn’t nearly as nice as I remembered it. I apologized to Nick about it. The rest of the drive had been much more remarkable.
“It doesn’t matter, dad,” he said, as he climbed out of the car. “It was a great. Thanks for making me take a drive with you today.”