My oldest friend is Charles. When our family moved from Topeka to western Kansas (west of Great Bend 13 miles in the country), I was just 11 years old (almost 12). My dad worked in Great Bend at the county welfare office. One of his co-workers was Charles’ dad. He was also a preacher at a small Christian church in Pawnee Rock – nine miles south of us and 13 miles SW of Great Bend. We moved in the summer and Pawnee Rock was also where we were going to be going to school. I met Charles that summer and we became friends. He actually lived near Larned (six miles SW of Pawnee Rock) and went to school there. We saw each other often and as we got older, we double dated among other things.
Charles was a year older than I was, so he went to college a year sooner. After his senior year of high school, we planned a trip to Colorado. I’m not sure why we went to the SW part of Colorado, but we did.
We drove from Larned to the mountains without stopping. When we got to the mountains, it was dark – sometime around midnight. We decided to stop and sleep. I remember sleeping on the hood of the car. In the mountains it’s pitch black, so you can’t see anything unless there is a moon. I remember there being none. What I also remember was the incredible sight of opening my eyes in the morning and seeing mountains all around me. That was the first time I had ever seen them and it was something impossible to forget. After all, how many people’s first viewing of the mountains comes from being in the middle of them?
We ended up going to Vallecito reservoir which was up in the mountains not far from Durango, Colorado. We camped, hiked, illegally fished and most of the things you do when you go to the mountains. What was especially memorable to me was that even though this was summer, it got cold at night. We did all we could to stay warm – well… not all we could, but you get the idea. I remember how cold the water was in the streams when we would try to brush our teeth or wash our face.
The single biggest impact that trip had on me wasn’t seeing the mountains for the first time. It was James Taylor and Mud Slide Slim. This was back in the 8-track days. Charles had a player and had this album by JT. At the time Taylor was just beginning his career. Mud Slide Slim, with the now-famous single “You’ve Got a Friend”, was his first mega-hit. Charles and I both sing and we both sang a lot on that trip. Every minute we were in the car, we had that 8-track on. We heard every song on the album at least 20 times. And, that shaped me in a lot of ways.
I discuss this on the link to the left, but simply put, I spent the next 25 years listening almost exclusively to James Taylor. I bought other tapes and CD’s, but when in my car, James Taylor was always on. I would listen to one of his albums for months at a time. I’m serious… months! Needless to say, I knew every note and every word of every song. I was a serious (with a capital S) fan – and so was Charles. The difference is that even though JT was his favorite artist and probably still is, he listened to other things. Nobody was as obsessive as I was about listening to the same thing over and over and over and over and over – a hundred, two hundred times. I doubt that oddity would have become such a part of who I was if not for that trip.