Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Looking Back

Rodney and Chris standing in front of the old
four door 1969 Ford Fairlane!
Looking back, I’ve always thought it was a damaged heart, not a broken mind, that drove me to surfing, but it was literally Chris Summers at the wheel of his mom's dingy yellow, four-door 1969 Ford Fairlane. Absolutely nothing cool about the old heap stood out, except for the two surfboards sticking haphazardly out of its back seat passenger window.

I got my first taste of gasoline on my first full day back in my neighborhood after spending 30-plus, spirit-adjusting days in St. Petersburg, Florida, attending the Goodwill Inpatient Drug Rehab Center. My deal with Chris was simple; if I could produce the fuel needed to get the Fairlane back and forth to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, I could accompany him and his friend Lester surfing. I had no money, but Chris had a short piece of green garden hose, a flaky-red-metal, five-gallon gas can and the skills of an experienced siphoner. So, after spending a little time on job training, I was off siphoning. At the time, Chris was working on his Eagle Scout badge, and he seemed to know everything. If surfing and siphoning was good for him, it was going to be good for me.

During my predawn fluid assault, I only hit up the cars stowed under well-lit carports. The hot 40- to 60-watt bulbs made the job easier, and the carport kept them drier, making the task of writing their owners a thank you/IOU note on their hoods or trunks less difficult. The messages were Chris' idea. He said no one needed to carry a dark conscience with them. Period. Over time I learned much from his diplomatic madness.

The day was July 3, 1975, and it was the year of our high school graduation. Both Chris and Lester were heading to USF to secure their business and CPA degrees. I'd changed high school five times before taking a General Educational Development test during my glorious month of rehabilitation in St. Petersburg. It wasn't until 10 years later, though, while seeking further enlightenment, that I found out I had passed the test and earned my GED. And it wasn't until nearly 40 years later that I realized it wasn't the pot I'd been smoking that drove me to rehab but falling in love for the first time and getting my heart crushed—which all led to surfing.

Later that summer, I recall a conversation I had with my favorite aunt, Helen. We were sitting in a wooden swing talking about how I'd found my purpose in life. I told her surfing was the only thing I needed for life, and she told me it was good but one day that would change. I'm still waiting.