A few days ago, an espn.com front page headline caught my eye. Under a big photo of Dale Earnhardt, was a caption announcing that it had been 10 years since his death.
I’ll note that I’m not much of a auto racing fan, and to the extent I watched it, it was typically Indy Car, not NASCAR. I didn’t watch the race that day. But I remember that weekend.
On February 16, 2001, we flew to California for a cousin’s bar mitzvah and an 8-day vacation. We, being me, Lori, and Aaron. Aaron was a few days shy of his 4th birthday, and Lori was becoming very large with our 2nd child. She needed a doctor’s clearance to fly. I have looked through my 16,000+ pictures and can find no evidence that she was ever that large, but it’s true. I remember it. But 10 years ago, I had no digital camera – I had tried out an HP prototype in 1998 but it would be another 2 years before we’d buy one – so I was still paying to develop pictures.
When we stepped off the airplane at SFO, we were greeted by Lori’s uncle. We were not expecting to be greeted by Lori’s uncle, so our first question was, “what are you doing here?” To which Jerry smiled at Lori and said, very simply, “your grandmother died.”
Ten years ago, we did not own a family cell phone. I had had one for my job a couple years earlier, but had hated it. It was bulky, the number had been hacked while I was on a trip, and the thief ran up $1300 in calls to Colombia. I had recently gotten a new one for work; if I made personal calls, I’d have to pay by the minute, with roaming charges. I used it as little as humanly possible, and didn’t travel with it.
Lori’s grandmother had been discovered by her daytime nurse, early that morning. The nurse tried to call us, as Lori’s parents had left for the bar mitzvah the previous day. We were the only family in town. But we left for the airport 10 minutes before the call, and we had no cell phone. We found out when we got off the plane, 2000 miles away.
The idea of turning Aaron right around to fly 2000 miles the other way seemed a mistake. The funeral was set for Sunday. So we decided that Lori could stay with us in California through the bar mitzvah, and we’d burn frequent flyer miles to get her back to Michigan for the funeral; she’d rejoin us in California after the first day of shiva. Ten years ago, it just cost 20,000 frequent flyer miles to come back, with no advance notice and no dollars being spent.
And so, for a couple days, I was a single dad of a nearly 4-year old child. For our first night together, that Sunday, I co-ordinated with my friend Steve to make an outing to a Golden State Warriors basketball game. I have no idea why. The Warriors were dreadful. (Some things never change). They had one good player, Antawn Jamison. (another thing that hasn’t changed: Jamison, 10 years later, is the “good player” on a similarly dreadful Cleveland team). They were playing the Atlanta Hawks, a bad team. We had cheap seats, and the Oakland Arena wasn’t exactly state-of-the-art. But we went.
Today, I have any number of nearly instant news feeds at my ready disposal. I have a computer with news gadgets, smart phones with facebook and espn apps. Ten years ago, unless I was sitting at the computer – and I wouldn’t be sitting at a computer 2000 miles away from home – my source might be TV or radio. Or, as happened the evening of the game, from the game announcers at the stadium. We walked in, and they were talking about the Daytona 500 and Dale Earnhardt, and on and on about Earnhardt, in the past tense. He had died in a crash, in the final turn of the race.
The Warriors blew a 4th quarter lead and lost that night, despite 37 points from Antawn Jamison. They would win just 4 more games out of their remaining 30, that season. Aaron fell asleep during the game. Lori came back to California the next evening, and we finished our vacation. A couple days after we came home, Aaron had his fourth birthday. Two months later, we welcomed Elianna in to the family.
And, as ESPN reminded me a few days ago, it was only a decade ago.