Sunday, November 8, 2009

The River

I spent the afternoon riding a steamboat on the Mississippi River, sipping warm Earl Grey tea and not particularly caring about anything at all. Unfortunately, the sun didn't join us for most of the trip. Still, the temperature was just as it should have been and everything felt pretty free and easy.

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Halfway through the trip, an unassuming looking man named Seth started up a conversation with me. He seemed pretty decent, and he reminded me a lot of my uncle Bernard. I warmed up to him immediately.

"First time on the river?" he asked.

"It is," I replied, "I'm just passing through, spending a couple of days in Memphis. I'll be headed up to Nashville tomorrow, but I couldn't resist the urge to take a tour of the Mississippi".

He nodded. "This is our third time here, mine and my family's" he said, gesturing off behind me.

"Do you live here?" I asked.

"Yep." he said, "Been here for a few years."

"That's interesting," I responded. "Typically you wouldn't expect residents to do the tourist attractions. I would only expect out-of-towners on this ship".

"You know, you're probably right about that," said Seth, "But we decided a long time ago that once a month, we're going to do something. Have an adventure, go out of town, just something."

"Every month?" I asked

"Yep. It's too easy to fall into a routine. If you hold yourself to once a month, then you've always got something to look forward to." Seth paused for a moment. "I grew up in San Francisco, and everyone asked if I ever did 'this event' or experienced 'that event'. And I was never able to say 'yes'. It made me realize that I may have been missing out on a lot. So, I wanted to live life a little differently, and I want to raise my girls in a way that they'll always be thirsty to just go out and experience life."

As if on cue, his two little girls approached to show them a new game they had cooked up together. Pardon the cliche, but I do believe "cute as a button" is appropriate here. They played in front of their daddy for a moment or two, before scurrying off again.

"A friend of mine got some huge TV, some, I don't know, million-inch flat-screen plasma or some such," said Seth, waving his hand dismissively. "He refuses to watch any sports at our house, because I've had the same medium-sized TV for years. And we've only got the one. I don't see the value in burning a lot of time and money on TV. That just means more time sitting at home doing nothing".

"After all," he said, "There are plenty of adventures out there".

-----

Whenever a stranger starts up a conversation with you, there's always the gamble that he or she could be a little off, or a little peculiar, or maybe they just have a personality that doesn't quite mesh with yours. Seth was not any of these. He was just a friendly family man looking for a couple of minutes to shoot the breeze. I was happy for the conversation, and for the company.

Before I knew it, we were docked again. It was time for us to part ways. I shook Seth's hand and wished him luck on his next adventure. Funny thing: he wished me the exact same thing.

As I headed off the ship, I thought about how nice it was that we had an hour-long conversation about life, without once discussing what we did for a living.

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Hundreds of voices have created art, literature, and music based on this river. I thought that this might be my only chance.

So, after the boat trip, I stood on the banks of the Mississippi River and desperately thought of something original to say. The words never came.

So I threw a rock into the Mississippi River. I don't know why.

It just seemed like something a free man would do.

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