Californians in Boston

third-seatThe station wagon with the third seat facing the rear pulled into Boston and stopped at the traffic signal. My two younger brothers and I rode that seat from California to Massachusetts, watching where we’d been, rather than where we were going.

3,177 miles backwards. For a while I was dizzy, car sick, nauseous, but after a while I got used to it.

The ’59 Dodge was a big car. It seemed like Mom and Dad, and whoever else was sitting up front with them, were in a different county. The actual dimensions of this monstrous car? Just over eighteen feet long, six-and-a-half feet wide, weighing about 4,200 pounds. The advertised top speed was 120 MPH, but I never saw my parents drive faster than 115. Mother liked to drive fast. I remember my turn to sit up front and help her “stay awake” one night driving through the Arizona desert while Dad got some sleep. It was scary.

We got about nine miles per gallon if one or two people were in the car. Seven or eight miles a gallon when all ten of us went somewhere together, like we did on this cross-country trip. Nobody had seat belts back then.

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As we pulled up to a traffic light in this strange city far from home, suddenly, my dad was yelling and talking excitedly. Someone outside was shouting and talking just as fast. From way back in the third row, I tried to see what was going on. Were my dad and the stranger mad at each other? Why were they yelling? I looked out the side window of our car and saw that the driver of the car next to us had dark skin and black curly hair. Why was he yelling at my dad? And why was my dad yelling back at him?

As I listened, it seemed to me that they were not angry with each other. No, I’m sure they were not upset. Rather they were excited and happy. They were yelling for joy. But why?

As I kept on looking at the man in the car next to us, I glanced down to see the license plate on his car. We had played the license plate game all across the country, keeping track of all the license plates to see who gets the most states. There were a lot of variations to that game. Riding backwards made it easier if the cars catching up to us had front license plates, because looking backwards I could see them before my brothers and sisters in the middle seat could see them. But if we were passing the other cars, then they got to see the license plates first. The way my parents drove, nobody ever passed us, so I never won the game.

traffic-lights-686041_1920At the red light in Boston, the license plate on the car next to us looked familiar. Was it? Yes! It was orange and black, a California license plate! We hadn’t seen one of those since we left home. Was that why Dad and the other guy were hollering? Yep, sure was.

Sitting in the car at the red light on our first day in Boston, we didn’t know a single soul in the city, or in the entire state of Massachusetts. But that first traffic light placed us right next to another human being from California. It was his first day in Boston too.

That was the first time I remember seeing an African-American, and the thing that stuck in my mind more than anything else was the connection that he and my dad made with each other. It wasn’t age; my dad was forty-two and the other guy seemed to be younger. It wasn’t family circumstance; my dad had a wife and eight kids in the car, while the other guy was single. It wasn’t that they had similar careers; my dad was in the Navy, and the other guy worked in a factory. And it wasn’t that they looked alike; my dad was a balding white guy, and the other guy was black with a full head of hair.

No, the connection they made with each other was simply that they had something in common. They were both from California, and that was enough. They were both more than 3,000 miles from home, and friendless – until that moment. But they had found someone from home.

ut-friendsI often think about that experience, and why people who are different despise each other? Why do people of different color, nationality, language, gender, religion, political party, or economic status hate each other?

Why can’t we be like my dad and the stranger in the car next to us, that day back in 1962?

I was seven years old when we drove into Boston. Over the past fifty-plus years, I have tried to focus on what I have in common with other people, instead of our differences: marriage, kids, jobs, sports, music, food, weather, fears, dreams, movies, faith, or our human-ness. There’s so much we share, it’s a shame people choose to fight over their differences.

Something powerful and amazing happens when we connect over something we have in common.

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Giant Springs, Montana

dscn8486In the spring of 2004, I was in Montana on business when I heard about Giant Springs State Park, so I drove over to take a look. What I discovered captured my imagination, and I vowed that someday I’d return to investigate more thoroughly, perhaps to use the springs, the river, and the water process as a parable or a metaphor for what happens in a person’s life. That “someday” happened in the summer of 2016.

I had some free time before starting a new job, and decided it would be a good time to go back to Montana. However, I needed help. So I called my brother to ask if he’d go with me. Gene has a tremendous understanding of science and engineering, and I wanted him to help me make sense of the underground water system in preparation for the project.

When I mentioned that I’d like him to take a trip to Montana with me, his immediate reply was, “Are you looking for grizzlies, moose, bison, or what?”

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“Gene, I need you to become an expert on the underground water system in Montana, you have four months to learn it, and I want you to go there with me.”

He listened to what I had to say, asked a few questions, and told me he was intrigued and would consider going. Then, because he lives in Arkansas and I live in Florida, he asked, “How are we going to get there? A road trip?”

“No, I think it’d be a better use of our time to fly up there, do what we need to do, then fly home.”

Having worked for Boeing, Rockwell, and McDonnel Douglas for many years, Gene enjoys airplanes and flying. Yet, he wasn’t sure he wanted to spend that kind of money on some harebrained idea from his younger brother.

So I said, “Would you go with me if I buy the plane tickets?”

“Well, now! That makes it easier to decide. Yes, I think I would.”

Once my brother accepted the challenge, he dove into the project wholeheartedly. He read articles, searched online, and called from time to time to tell me what he was learning. I was doing much of the same reading, but his comprehension was keener and broader.

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The focus of our project was the water that gushes out of Giant Springs and forms the Roe River. Up until 2006, the Guinness Book of World Records listed the Roe River of Montana as the shortest river in the world. Guinness no longer includes “shortest river” as a category, but the Roe is still there – 201 feet of pure, crystal clear water.

The western sliver of Montana is west of the Continental Divide. On the other hand, Helena, Great Falls, and the Little Belt Mountains are immediately east of the Divide. Ironically, this means that the shortest river in the world flows into the longest river in America – the  2,341-mile Missouri.

The first English speakers to describe Giant Springs were Lewis and Clark, who explored Montana in 1805. The people of the Blackfeet Nation, however, had been using the springs as a winter water source long before Lewis and Clark arrived.

What continues to captivate my curiosity, though, is the decades-long process the water takes to get from the mountains, 60 miles away, to Giant Springs. I can do a lot of research online and in the library, but I wanted to see the springs, the terrain, the mountains, and the streams. I wanted to take pictures. So I had to go. And, I wanted Gene to go with me.

I drove from Florida to Arkansas and spent the night at Gene’s home. The next day we drove to Oklahoma City, and from there, flew to Salt Lake City, changing planes, then taking the jaunt up to Helena. Flying over Wyoming was the first time Gene saw the Grand Teton mountain range from the air, but with their majestic peaks jutting straight up, he recognized them immediately.

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After landing in Helena and checking in to the Super 8 hotel, we took some time to drive around Helena and get acquainted with the town. One of the highlights was seeing the beautiful Cathedral of St. Helena. Another was driving by Carroll College. Then we went out to dinner to go over our game plan.

The next morning, we drove 91 miles to Great Falls, MT, which is known as the “Electric City” because of its numerous dams and power plants. Along the way, we talked, sang, and laughed. We took pictures of mountains, rivers, geese, squirrels, and waterfalls, including the Black Eagle Falls, one of five waterfalls on a ten-mile stretch of the Missouri River as it runs through Great Falls.

When we got to Giant Springs State Park, we took pictures and read all the literature and signs we could find.

After a couple of hours at the Roe River, we headed east. I’d heard about a town called Stanford about an hour’s drive from Great Falls. My grandfather was Stanford Linzey, my dad was Stanford Linzey, Jr., and my brother is Stanford Linzey III. So I thought, “Hey! We’re already in Montana. Why not drive a little out of the way and have lunch in Stanford, in honor of my grampa, my dad, and their namesake – my brother?” So we did.

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We had a delightful time in Stanford, which has a population of about 400. We ate lunch in the Basin Trading Post, learned some of the history of the area, and saw the infamous White Wolf in the display case. Then we toured the town, taking more pictures, of course

From there, we drove up to the Little Belt Mountains to see the source of the water that flows underground to Giant Springs. On the way, we discovered a breathtaking gorge, carved by the Belt Creek. It was named Sluice Box State Park because the geographical structure looked like the sluice boxes used by miners to remove dirt, rocks, gravel, and sand. From the 1870s through the 1930s gold, silver, zinc, and lead were mined from these hills.

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We passed an old farm house that had burned to the ground, and imagined together what might have happened there. Then we continued driving deeper into the mountains, taking note of the many streams and creeks. At one point, Gene mentioned he’d read somewhere that for all the water you see above ground, there’s much more than that underground.

“Sort of like the iceberg principle?” I asked?

“Yes, similar. But not the same ratio.”

We drove south through the towns of Monarch, Neihart, and Showdown. Then, going down the other side of the mountains the road was being repaired, so we got in line and followed the Department of Transportation vehicle into the town of White Sulphur Springs and stopped for gas. After pulling back onto the road, a pickup truck sped dangerously around us, slamming on its brakes right in front of us. The driver got out and marched over to our car.

This representative of the great State of Montana was quite angry that I hadn’t waited for the escort before getting back on the unfinished road, and decided to make sure I understood what she thought of me and my driving. Screaming at me, she asked, “Didn’t you learn anything at all in high school drivers training class? Or are you blind?”

When I told her that yes, I did learn how to drive in high school, and I was not blind, but I just didn’t see any escort trucks anywhere, she escalated the discussion to yelling, berating, and cussing at me.

“I hope you have a fine day, too, ma’am,” I said as she stomped back her truck, climbed onto her throne, and slammed the door.

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After returning to the flatlands, we headed north and drove along a wide place in the Missouri River, stopping outside of Winston to photograph a lone pelican on the water. Then we came full circle to where we started the day, pulling into the Super 8 parking lot in Helena. We had driven over 350 miles that day in an effort to experience the setting and context where the water parable takes place. We had to see the springs and the mountains in person, get a feel for the distances involved, and take the pictures. Just as importantly, we needed to talk about what we saw while we were there, which brought the project to life in a new dimension.

That night, we went to a steakhouse to celebrate our time together and to discuss what we had seen and done, the places we visited. In the hotel later, we shared our pictures so we’d have duplicates, just in case my computer crashed or Gene were to lose his camera. If either were to happen, the other would still have a photographic record of the experience, which brings us back to the parable of the hidden waters and the invisible forces.

Using the story about the Madison Aquifer and Giant Springs as an allegory, we want to explore some of what goes on internally in human beings, and examine some of the invisible forces at work in each of us. Hopefully, the result will help us – and our readers – more effectively manage the things that have happened in our past, how we respond to them, and how we relate to the people in our lives. Please go with us on this journey. As we discovered, it’s a lot more fun to travel together.

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