I wander off.
My wife will tell you about it. At the moment, it’s not a senility thing, but it doesn’t bode well for my last days. Lots of Silver Alerts. Calls from cops from Birmingham to Baja.
I think this tendency comes from my first visit to the St. Louis Zoo. Was I 3? Little black and white photographs show me snappily dressed in a little cap and wool coat — harnessed and on a leash fit for a yapping terrier.
My mother was a sweet country girl, worried that my stunning good looks would attract baby thieves in the big city.
Never miss a local story.
Something must have snapped in me, unhooked me from the reality of place.
I’ve told of my wandering, getting stuck one night in the Lake Superior dunes with our older kid, leaving my wife incommunicado for hours with a baby in a fishing camp called Christmas. And I’ve mentioned my almost getting trapped for a Himalayan winter in north Kashmir.
My younger daughter will be happy to recount the Elvis episode at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. A small child left, security personnel involved, much shame heaped.
I used to have a lot of energy. We land in Europe, the family takes a nap to get over the jet lag. Not me. I’m out the door looking around.
Take a typical day in Cairo: First I get chased along with some Muslim Brotherhood guys by Egyptian security units. Then I catch a cab to spend the afternoon at Saqqara’s early pyramids. No moment wasted.
A few years back on our last day in Rome, the Good Wife was clearly tired and needed a rest. Thinking myself gallant, I waved up a cab, shoved her in and sent it off to the hotel.
Me, I still had sights to cram in. One we had given up on, but missing it gnawed at me. The catacombs. It was about 4 p.m. when I hopped on a bus, which surprisingly drove a long way. Didn’t realize they were dug outside old city walls.
The catacombs closed just as I got there, so I had to hike back, by the map about five miles. Walking Rome at night — the bridges over the Tiber, the Castel Sant’Angelo — was a lovely, lovely experience.
Walking innocently into our room was not.
There was that highly agitated Alpha female again. I recognized her from the disaster up at Christmas. It was just like stumbling into the den of a nursing wolverine. For some reason, she had grown concerned at my being missing for several hours in a large foreign capital.
She had thought we could cap the trip with a last nice dinner in the Eternal City. Candlelight, Chianti, romance, the stud muffin making witty remarks. Instead, it was late, and she had a very tired, very sweaty, pasture muffin making whimpering sounds.
Cowering is good. Makes our marriage stronger.
But the sweetie-pie-honey-bunch should know by now, for better or for worse, I always show up eventually.
Take one fall morning in 1988. A deep boom disturbed my sleep. What the hell? Pulled on my pants and shirt, and started driving, looking for clues. Those were the lights of emergency vehicles blasting south through intersections off to the east. I started triangulating from State Line and Gregory through the dark, quiet streets.
I ended up just north of the Blue River on the old U.S. 71. Cops were on the bridge blocking it.
I knew the convenience store a couple hundred yards away would have a pay phone outside. My car’s tires crunched through the blown-out front glass in the parking lot of the store, its shelves emptied by the shock of whatever happened. Something big, I reckoned.
The phone still had a dial tone, though, so I woke up the city editor and told him to bugle up the troops. It was going to be a busy morning.
Did I call my wife? I think, by now, you know that answer.
Then, adrenaline dripping onto the Toyota’s floormats, I negotiated the twisting roads by the old Bendix plant, found Bannister and roared back east to 71. I hiked through the large collection of emergency vehicles to the police commanders studying a map by flashlight on the hood of a patrol car.
Just in time to register the concussion of the second explosion.
They say it was bigger than the first. The forgotten wife, five miles away, wondering just where I was at that moment, agrees.
The six poor firefighters responding to the arson blazes at the road-widening project may have been the only ones who didn’t hear it. They and their pumper trucks had been wiped out when the first burning trailer of explosives went off.
Understanding that I would get no closer to the scene of the fatal tragedy, I got back in my car and raced straight to The Star. We had afternoon editions to get out. Remember those?
Oh yeah, I think somebody finally let the sweetie-pie-honey-bunch know where I was.
To reach Darryl Levings, call 816-234-4689 or email firstname.lastname@example.org