I was just out of college—or, I should say, recently out of college. I had traveled the country for three months, visiting friends and burning through my savings. The big question on my mind: Where was I going to live? I had narrowed it down to two choices, Seattle and Denver. I had never visited either city (though I had driven through Denver several times) and didn’t know anyone there. I had no job lined up. No plan in place. All I knew is I wanted to become involved in high school ministry and play in a rock band. Seattle seemed the place to do it. After all, I had survived college thanks to Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.
Why Denver as the other option? A few reasons. It was still within a reasonable driving distance to my family and hometown (Seattle looked so far away on the map it might as well have been in another country). Also, I learned Seattle rarely got snow. Having suffered through Texas heat for three years, I longed to see snow. Denver got it; and I had read the city was on the cusp of a growth explosion—of population and artistic influence. I decided to spend some time there before making a final decision.
I drove into the city, found a seedy hotel on Colfax Avenue, across the street from a large music venue, and paid for a week’s stay. During my first night, The Flaming Lips played a show at the theatre and I was able to listen to the music (though muffled) from my hotel room.
I was writing my first book at the time. I loved the beat poets, particularly Kerouac, and fantasized myself a modern Dean Moriarty, or Sal Paradise. I would write during the morning, take a shuttle into the lower downtown area, spend the afternoon and evenings in bookstores and microbreweries across from the train station, a few blocks from Coors Field. And, of course, I would talk to people. One guy I met was riding the train (in true bohemian fashion) across the western states, journaling his adventures, unsure of where he was going next or when he would return home. He wore round, John Lennon glasses and a beret, turned backwards. He urged me to cancel my plans and join him. I briefly considered it (That would have been the ultimate Kerouac moment, right?), but didn’t go. It was too risky; and also, I was feeling run down. I had felt that way for several days. I assumed it was because I was pushing myself so hard. But then I grew worried, so I called my father, a physician, and asked him about it. I gave him a rundown of my symptoms; he told me to rub my fingers around my neck area. It didn’t take him long to make the diagnosis. Mononucleosis.
I returned to my hometown (an eighteen hour drive) to recover. At the time, my parents were living in transition at my aunt’s house, having just moved back to town after four years in Ft. Worth and Colorado. I spent a month and a half there, resting and recovering from the illness, all the while itching to get back on the road. I had decided Seattle was where I wanted to live. I had known it all along. Denver was just a fallback plan. So once the doctor pronounced me in good health, I packed my car again and left. I wasn’t sure what I would do upon arriving in Seattle, but I didn’t really stop to think about it. I was determined, and nothing was going to change my mind.
Last week, my friend Andrew and I went for a run. We often run together, usually up a steep hill in Culver City. Once we reach the top, tired and spent, we give ourselves the luxury of walking down the hill. This time, Andrew wanted to do it differently.
“What do you say we go the whole way without walking?”
“Even across the baseball fields?”
“Count me in.”
I often get nervous before a difficult workout. I know it’s going to exhaust me—and this one would be no different. When we reached the hill, Andrew and I began pacing ourselves, running slower than usual.
There’s a line from a mid 90s movie, Gattaca, that I’ve always remembered. In the movie, genetic engineering has been instituted to create a superior race of people. Ethan Hawke plays Vincent, a young man whose parents refused the technology and conceived him naturally. They later regretted it, as he became subject to myopia and a heart defect, with a shortened life expectancy and high probability of developing mental disorders. His parents conceived his younger brother, Anton, with the genetic-aiding technology. As a result, Anton bests Vincent in most endeavors—physical and intellectual—including the game of chicken they play against each other.
They both swim out to sea, and the first to give up and return to shore is the loser. Anton always wins because of his advanced physical stamina. But one day, Vincent challenges him. This time, Vincent doesn’t give up. He races ahead of Anton, who runs into trouble and begins to drown. Vincent saves him.
Later, Anton asks Vincent how he beat him that day.
“You want to know how I did it?” Vincent answers. “That’s how I did it, Anton. I never saved anything for the swim back.”
When I moved to L.A. to become an actor, that idea inspired me—to hold nothing back. When others had quit, I would be the last one standing because going home was not an option for me. I hadn’t given myself a fallback plan. Running up the hill with Andrew, I realized I was saving energy for the trip back, and remembered the line from Gattaca.
Andrew and I talked about it once we had reached a flat stretch of land and could catch our breaths. “I’m a planner,” he said. “That’s the way my mind works.” I agreed with him. He’s a teacher. He must function that way. I’ve become a planner, as well. I suppose as we grow and assume responsibility, it’s impossible not to. None of us can stay punk rock forever.
Hopefully, I’m a more mature man than I was, perhaps a shade wiser. No longer will I move to a new city without a job lined up or plan in the works. I hesitate now before throwing caution to the wind. But sometimes I miss that Michael, the one who would pack up and head into the unknown, running on a dream and sprinting on faith. Every so now and then, like when I’m running up a steep hill, I miss that guy.
He would have sprinted to the top.