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Monday, September 10, 2018

Ridin' Along, Singin' a Song - A Memoir of Friendship (Part 2)

Somewhere in Monument Valley

Jerry and I took our first road trip together in November of 2007. He’d been forced by emergency surgery to miss the previous year’s AYE conference, and I went to visit him for a few days in March 2007 while he was still recovering. Though he’d been writing fiction, it was harder for him than non-fiction, and Jerry was taking a break from it.
Playing with Caro

We spent the week as writing buddies. Jerry was writing “Perfect Software” and I was working on a long piece about end-to-end system integration testing. We’d write each morning in our respective solitudes, have lunch together at the Weinberg house, then read, review and discuss each other’s work in the afternoon. In late afternoon we’d go to wonderful places, like the Bosque Wildlife Reserve, or the Rattlesnake Museum. And we played with the dogs.

Looking up water birds at the Bosque

By then we knew each other pretty well. We’d met at PSL in 2001 and at AYE conferences from 2003, and I’d been in the SHAPE Forum and his Consulting Skills workshop. Jerry had mentored me through the whitewater rapids of my work on several troubled projects, and we had an extensive email correspondence covering a vast range of topics. He’d reviewed article drafts for me, and I’d reviewed drafts of his first novel and some of his other fiction.

At the end of the visit, I made Jerry an offer. I knew he had always driven to Phoenix for AYE and would be determined to drive as usual that November. After what he’d been through, I was worried about him doing that drive alone, and I suspected Dani would also be concerned. We’d had an easy companionship over the course of my visit and we’d never stopped talking. I thought Jerry and I could enjoy a road trip together, so I offered to drive with him to the next AYE. Knowing Jerry, I put it on a business basis: suggesting that I’d do the drive in exchange for payment of my expenses on the way. “Humph”, said Jerry. “We’ll see”. I flew home; we emailed as usual, and continued reviewing.

Next thing I knew, it was a done deal. Not only were we doing the drive together, but Jerry suggested that we should make a little vacation of it. Instead of driving the 400 miles in a day, we’d explore some of the glories of the Southwest, taking 4 days to get to Phoenix and 4 days back by a different route. He started planning a tour.

I hadn’t driven a car with a manual shift in years, so I took a couple of lessons to brush up. We exchanged emails about what music we’d listen to in the car and I pulled together a batch of CDs.

We never listened to a single one. What do you think happens when you put two people-who-never-shut-up in a car together for days on end? We talked endlessly. About everything.

We shared a love of road trips and of driving, of dogs, of Baroque music and Mozart, of natural wonders and of native ruins. We both liked back roads and country diners and trading posts. We had a similar (okay, sometimes awful) sense of humour. Our driving styles were compatible—fast, but not outrageously so. It was the first major outing for Jerry's new Jeep (and I got chocolate on the passenger seat). At first, Jerry wanted to do most of the driving, but he gradually relinquished control and l drove more and more.

Sometimes we played word games or sang silly songs neither of us really knew the words to:

Oh, we ain't got a barrel of money
Maybe we're ragged and funny

But we’re ridin’ along, singin’ a song
Side by side

Off-road on the Mogollon Rim
 Every day we went to fabulous places. I took too many photographs. Sometimes we took a short hike. One splendid day we went off-road for miles along the Mogollon Rim. Jerry’s son Keats went to AYE that year, and on the way back we met him and his family to explore the native ruins at Walnut Canyon and then got together again at the Grand Canyon South Rim. Last stop was Chaco Canyon.

Evenings were for quiet time. We’d have an early dinner, then retire to our respective motel rooms for some much-needed solitude, emails and other introverted computer stuff.

Did I mention that we had a lot of fun?

It was a pattern we were to repeat, with variations, for 3 more road trips to AYE. (But I never again bothered to bring CDs.)

Jerry climbed steadily straight up that stair. I had to take a breather.

Reading tourist info aloud at Chaco Canyon

To be continued. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Problem-solving in the Wilderness - A Memoir of Friendship (Part 1)

"In these times of wonderful revolution, and incalculable & sudden changes in the fate of empires and the fortunes of individuals, the only good things of which we can feel absolutely secure are the possession of our minds, & of the esteem & affection of our friends."
 -Maria Edgeworth to Etienne Dumont, 12 August 1815.

Tent Rocks, New Mexico

In June 2009 I flew to Albuquerque for Jerry Weinberg and Esther Derby’s class in experiential session design. I landed a couple of days early, partly because I’d flown from England and needed to deal with jet lag, and partly to spend a little pre-arranged time with Jerry.

On the morning of June 20th we had planned to drive to Tent Rocks, a national monument with bizarre and wonderful rock formations. But it was raining, and threatening more rain. Jerry said the canyons could be dangerous and he wanted to see if it cleared before we went.

The sun shone bright after lunch, so we drove to Tent Rocks and set out on a loop hike into the canyon. A  light rain started again almost immediately. We walked for a while, but there were some very narrow passages with high sides—okay to walk through usually, but they’d be traps in a flash flood. And there were several tiny canyons running down the mountains, and feeding into our canyon on either side. We met a lot of people coming in the opposite direction and one of them said there was a storm coming over the ridge. Jerry said the biggest danger is rain above you, which can suddenly turn to flash floods several feet deep rushing down the canyons, and it wouldn't do for us to be in a place where we couldn't climb to higher ground quickly. He couldn’t do anything like that quickly, so we stopped and went back. Of course the rain stopped too, once we were almost back at the start. 

Jerry leading the way in the canyon
Feeling a little cheated and still in the mood for an excursion, we didn’t want to drive back tamely the way we’d come. The good gravel road we’d entered the park on continued past the hiking trails, so Jerry thought we could drive on through and come home that way. We met a ranger who said he thought the road would be ok. He told me the Navajo name for the place and got me to say it a couple of times.

The really good road!
At first the road was indeed excellent gravel, but it soon turned to rocks and dirt and Jerry put the Jeep into 4-wheel drive. It became an adventure drive like a couple we’d done together before: happily jolting along on a "primitive" road without a map. Jerry adored difficult drives and the scenery was glorious. There were good bits of road, and then bad. Some of it was extremely challenging, with deep cracks and potholes and large rocks. A fallen tree partly blocked the way at one point. For a while, we drove alongside a sharp drop off a steep cliff.

After some time, the road became less definite. It was harder and harder to tell if the faint track we were following was road at all, or if we'd missed the way when it branched. We knew that homeward bound had to be downhill out of the mountains, but we kept climbing steadily. As Jerry drove carefully on through the forest of thinly spaced trees, I watched out the windows for any tracks that looked as if they might possibly be roads.

Eventually we had to acknowledge that we’d reached a point where there really was no road in any direction. We hadn't met a soul or seen a car since talking to the ranger, and apart from very occasional horse poo and a single soft drink can, there’d been no signs of civilization whatever. With only two or three hours to sunset, we were getting a bit concerned.

We stopped to consider our state and our options. We were out of cell phone range. We didn’t have a compass. We weren’t in any present danger, but driving a rough track near cliffs after dark would be risky and foolish. Whatever we did, we might not make it out of the woods before dark.

We devised a contingency plan. There was plenty of bottled water in the back of the Jeep and a somewhat grubby cotton quilt. We had a few hard candies. If we were forced to sleep in the vehicle, we could keep warm and hydrated. In that eventuality, Jerry would try before dark to place the bright red Jeep somewhere where it could be seen from below if anyone came looking for us.

Obviously, spending the night in the wilderness had nothing to recommend it but possible necessity. Jerry was most anxious that Dani wouldn’t know where we were. An incorrigible urbanite, I was anxious at being lost in the woods and I was also worried about Jerry, aware that he was in pain and not feeling his best. We needed to make a decision and get moving.

Jerry never liked backtracking. On any of our road trips I could never convince him we should go back to the diner or motel we’d just passed. However hungry we were, however late in the day, he always wanted to press on in the certain (though rarely realized) hope that we’d happen on another, better one just down the road.

This time going back seemed the only prudent thing to do. So we agreed to turn around—not easy in that space—and try to retrace our tracks. Jerry had to drive. He was tired and unwell but he was an experienced, skilled off-road driver. I’d driven the Jeep on challenging mountain roads, but I’d never driven off road nor in 4-wheel drive—and I had the better eyesight.

At first we stopped frequently for me to squat down and scan the dry ground closely for something resembling our tire tracks. I continued peering intently out the open window as they became clearer. It was a considerable relief when we finally knew we were on the right track back to the park. Once, we came to a road going in the other direction that Jerry said his instincts told him would take us down the mountain and out. We did discuss taking it, but agreed it was better to go for a sure thing at that point. Arriving at the park gates just before dusk, we saw 5 mule deer silhouetted against the sky and several jackrabbits on the hill. On the road, the sunset and the light on the mountains were gorgeous and when we were back in town and looking for a restaurant I spotted a coyote. 

Dinner was BBQ, of course.

Back in my B&B that evening, I reflected gratefully that despite all that mutual anxiety we hadn’t wasted energy on tetchiness, but had unhesitatingly moved into total problem-solving mode, discussing our options calmly and making decisions together with humour and mutual respect and trust. I wasn’t about to recommend getting lost in the wilds of New Mexico to anyone, but I couldn't think of many people I'd have trusted or felt as safe with in similar circumstances.

Jerry called that afternoon “our experiential problem-solving exercise”—a prelude to the week’s class in experiential session design.

The day had ended well, but I decided that I wouldn’t go off-road again with Jerry unless I could confidently take over and drive us away if he became ill. So I demanded that he teach me. Jerry harrumphed and said “perhaps”, but on our next road trip he directed me into a relatively easy off-road stretch and talked me through the rudiments. Later, we took a rough back way into Chaco Canyon and I got more practice. I completely got the allure. In 4-wheel drive on tough terrain, the Jeep felt like nothing I’d ever driven and I loved it.

After Jerry’s death, I read a blog post suggesting that he had somehow lacked the capacity for friendship. Gobsmacked, I thought, “Well, that was your experience. It was certainly not mine, and I’m sure it wasn’t the experience of many others.” Au contraire, Jerry had an extraordinary capacity for friendship. I know of many people who loved him and rightly called him friend, and there are many more I don't know. That love wasn't one-sided. He had an unusually large number of real friends: deep friendships of the heart and mind. Many of us began with Jerry’s books, workshops or mentorship. Each unique friendship grew in its own way and through its own interactions.

To be continued.