“A whole new world can open up if you’re just willing to get your feet wet.” (Tom M., c 1988)
My friend Tom said that one day when I was visiting him with his brother Errol and Errol’s wife Cookie and daughter Debra. Tom has always been good at that kind of epigram.
At the time I was living in Huntsville, Alabama, and Errol and his family were living just outside Atlanta. Tom was living in Espanola, NM, and we liked to go out to visit as often as we could. We had taken a run up into Colorado, and had stopped to look at a stream that ran near the road. On the other side of the stream, there was a dark hole that we thought might be an old mine entrance. The stream was not too wide, but it was fast and cold. We worried a little but decided to jump the stream to investigate. Tom and I jumped over safely to the other side. Errol didn’t. He landed in the stream. He was OK, but he was drenched. That’s when Tom said it.
I have known Tom for a long time. I first met him in 1971 when I was attending Georgia State University in Atlanta and he was at Georgia Tech. I met him through my brother, and we ended up sharing an apartment. We lived near Piedmont Park in a neighborhood that was a center of the hippie and drug communities. It was an interesting experience. We should write a book. Tom had recently returned from Viet Nam. He told me some stories about that experience. He should write a book.
I don’t have a lot of pictures from that time, but here is a fuzzy shot of me on the left and Tom on the right. We were goofing around in Piedmont Park after a light snow. I find it hard to believe we were ever that young.
I graduated from GSU in 1973 and took a job at a newspaper in Augusta, Ga. Not too long after that, Tom left Georgia Tech just shy of his architecture degree. He rode his bicycle over to visit me, a short hop of only about 140 miles. And then he rode up to Canada. He went across Canada and ended up in Seattle. And then San Francisco. And then Lake Tahoe. At Lake Tahoe he provided pretty much all the expertise for a group to set up a printing shop. Tom should write a book.
In the first half of 1976 I quit the newspaper, thinking maybe I would start writing. Instead I rode my motorcycle up to Pittsburgh, Pa, where my brother was doing a post-doc at Carnegie Mellon University. Sometime around then I heard from Tom at Lake Tahoe. I decided to leave Pennsylvania to visit Tom, so I rode my motorcycle to California. When I got there, it was so beautiful that I decided to stay. I ended up sharing a house with Tom there for a year and a half.
When I ran out of money, I rode my motorcycle back home at Christmas and, coincidentally, was offered a job back at my old newspaper. So I left Lake Tahoe, which for me was pretty much the American dream, for Augusta, Georgia, which is just no place to be. Tom and I kind of lost track of each other again for a while.
After a year at the newspaper, I quit again. By that time I think it was becoming a habit. And that time I had no idea whatsoever what I was going to do. So I visited Errol in Woodstock, near Atlanta, and we found a very nice Volkswagen bus. My father and mother helped turn it into a camper. In the meantime, Tom had ended up in Albuquerque working at Sandia National Lab, so I took the camper and headed west again. I visited with Tom and drove around New Mexico and Colorado for a while, and then came back home. Before too long I ended up in school again, this time at Georgia Tech. And, once again, Tom and I kind of lost track of each other.
Before I finished Tech, Tom was found again by friendly forces. When I finished my degree, I ended up in Huntsville, Alabama, working for an Army contractor. My degree was in atmospheric sciences, but by then Ronald Reagan had decided that atmospheric science research was a waste of money, and we should instead spend billions on a missile defense system, so that’s where the work was.
Anyway, Errol, Cookie and I took several trips out to visit Tom over the next few years. Tom eventually ended up at Los Alamos. Tom had decided that he wanted to sail a boat around the world, so, in the middle of New Mexico, he started reading about how to do it. He ended up buying a small but seaworthy sailboat in Florida and moved into it to learn how to sail. When he was confident that he knew what he was doing, he sailed off and ended up in Cuba. He stayed there for a while, and when he left, he ran into bad weather. I was at work fairly late one night when I got a call from Errol. Tom had contacted Errol to let him know that he was in the process of having his boat run into a reef in a storm off the coast of Cuba.
The short of it is that he did, indeed, lose the boat, and stayed in Cuba for quite some time afterward. He eventually traveled back to the US by way of Mexico. Tom really should write a book.
Tom is now living in Edgewood, New Mexico, living the life of a very successful retiree, seeing the world and doing whatever in the hell he wants to do. He is one of the most interesting people I have ever known, and has lived a very different kind of life from most people. Over the years our trajectories have intersected and then flown off in different directions, but we have remained friends. We are both old guys now. I’m 63 and Tom is even older than that. I thought we were pretty much confirmed bachelors and expected that to continue. And then in 2005, just after my 55th birthday, I dragged Leah down to the courthouse and we got married.
And now, this day, July 27, Tom will marry Kay. I guess he decided it was time to get his feet wet and open up a whole new world.
And so, from both of us, congratulations and best wishes Tom and Kay.