Taking the Long Way to Sancho Panza

“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them.” ~ The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miquel de Cervantes

What Don Quixote thought were giants in the above quote, were actually windmills. His sidekick, Sancho Panza tries to warn Quixote of this, but he charges anyway on the back of his horse Rozinante only to be knocked out and his lance splintered by the immovable windmills. Sancho, who was trailing behind, arrives and says, “…Did I not tell your worship to look what you were doing, for they were naught but windmills? And nobody could mistake them but one who had other such in his head.” After this short told-you-so he does not torment Quixote further, but instead helps him back on his horse, and the companions continue down the road.

There is a thick line that divides friends from sidekicks. As you head into battle, a friend wishes your safe return whereas a sidekick picks up shield and joins you in your fight, or at least trails behind to pick up the pieces. Few people are lucky to have a loyal companion to refer to as their sidekick, their wingman, their Sancho Panza. He is the guy that provides sound advice, yet will support his companion’s pursuits even when they seem foolish.

My sidekick is Tylor Durand. We have played together for the last 5 years in our rock band The Hornrims with Tylor serving as the drummer. I have known him for 13 years. I’ll never forget the day I met him in while I was living in Florida and he was visiting. He walked into one of my favorite watering holes The New World Brewery with Brian McCabe, my friend of 24 years and the other third of The Hornrims. Tylor was wearing Dickies jacket and pants, along with Red Wing work boots. Brian said, “This is Tylor from New York.” I turned, and seeing the lanky figure in his work-like clothing spouted back, “Are you here to fill the vending machines?” A relationship was cast.

Tylor and I have lived in the same building for the last few years. His wife and son treat me as family and they refer to me as “Uncle Joe.” In this maniacal city it’s nice to have friends nearby when the pressure gets to be too much. Tylor is a graphic artist by trade and musician by heart. He plays many instruments and has a huge archive of hundreds of recordings stored on his King of Beef website. He lives and breathes rock music. He attends concerts, is always up for a jam, and has an extensive record collection. And when I say “record,” I mean black, round, and vinyl. He is also a writer and has a blog called The Rock File where he posts about the beauty and power of rock music. To call him a renaissance man is an understatement. He uses all of his talents fully to participate in life – a trait far too rare these days.

Tylor is game for any kind of new experience. When I was still married, he acted in my stepdaughter’s films. He designed the logo for my skateboard company, and when the decks arrived with bad heat transfers, he helped me sand them off so they could be silk screened. He designed my amp company logo and has assisted my moves into new apartments more times than I can count. When I told him I was going to write a rock adaptation of Shakespeare’s Pericles he replied, “That sounds cool.” Any idea for an adventure or trip I have, he is automatically down. He rode the train an hour and a half each way with me to check out the Silverball Museum in faded Asbury Park just because he knew how much I liked the dying table game of pinball. His generosity is boundless. I don’t think he was ever taught the word “no”.

The Durands were housesitting upstate this past weekend and invited me up for a visit. Tylor’s wife, Tamara, sent very explicit directions to the house in an email. Within the email, the address was highlighted in blue, so instead of reading the directions I just clicked the link and the location came up on my iPhone map feature. Saturday morning I gassed up the Brick and without further checking, headed toward the blue dot on the map. I didn’t even fathom that an invention of Steve Job’s brain trust could ever steer me in the wrong direction. I arrived in a totally different town far from where I was supposed to be.

Technology failing humans is a common theme in our culture. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the spaceship’s computer, HAL9000, has a psychotic meltdown and takes command of the Discovery One. The very minute we trust technology is the same minute it will fail us. I fell into this trap by not reading the email and I arrived at the totally wrong address 100 miles away. I called Tylor and he laughed it off, “Just get here when you get here,“ he said. Once again, anger did not take hold. It was a beautiful day with no rain in sight and relatively cool compared to the recent heat wave. I gassed up again, actually read Tam’s simple directions, and in an hour a half I was finally at the weekend retreat.

The Durands waved warmly as I pulled into the pebbled driveway of the country house. Their son Oscar is fascinated by costumes of any kind, so I wore full leathers with the intention of looking as much as a superhero as I could. Oscar smiled as I climbed off the Brick, his eyes wide with excitement seeing the Batman-esque outfit complete with an iconic logo, gloves, and boots all superhero staples. Tylor cracked me a beer, fixed me a tasty crab cake sandwich, and we sat with Tam as Oscar put on my motorcycle gear. He is such an interesting child with a big personality. I am sure he will find a career as a creative type.

We went down to a nearby river and the Durands went for a swim while I watched from the bank. The sound of the rushing water was like music for city ears tired of sirens and honking horns. We skimmed stones and nobody could beat Tylor’s long distance chuck that almost cleared an entire section of the river. It was a simple day doing simple things.

As the night fell we cooked sausages on the grill. I stuffed myself with food as is my recent trend. I am not worrying too much about my weight because I am considering this my summer of indulgence. Is there anything more indulgent than buying a motorcycle and taking a cross-country trip to California? I realize that there is no quick fix to happiness, but I am trying to do things that please me in the now. If I am immediately happy, perhaps I can decode what I need do to be happy in the long term. Until then, I will keep spinning the wheels of the cryptex until it opens.

We later roasted marshmallows, watched a neighbor’s fireworks, and gazed upon stars that we never get to see in Manhattan. Tam and Oscar went off to bed and Tylor and I talked long into the night, drinking beers and solving the problems of the music world until our eyelids got too heavy to remain open. I spent the night in a cozy attic room with no air conditioner, just a fan blowing on me as I reflected on the day. I got lost, but made my way here to find a small slice of solitude. I guess the trick for a happy life is to string together a series of these slices to create a whole happy pie.

I rose the next morning. Tylor cooked me his famous egg sandwich and we sat in the cool morning just talking and goofing around with Oscar. I geared up and fired up the Brick. As I pulled away, I watched the waving Durands shrink in my mirrors. In the past, I would have felt sadness over seeing their tight nuclear family bidding me farewell, lamenting that I didn’t have my own. But in a sense, they are my own. They are family if nothing other than by their close friendship and support they constantly heap on me.

I followed the Taconic Parkway south and turned onto the Sawmill. A dirty green Subaru tracked next to me. I thought he wanted to turn in front of me but when I came to a stoplight he called out, “That’s a great Beemer! What year?” “1988!” I hollered back. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one so old look so nice!” he shouted as the light changed. I thought about this and parsed it into a metaphor. The few great relationships I have sustained have been in my life a long time – and never have friendships so old looked so nice.

I have come to many revelations while blasting through mountain roads of the northeast aboard the Flying Brick. This trip I realized how lucky I am to have great old friends who remind me that sometimes the giants I am trying to fight are merely windmills. And when I ignore them and fight ‘em anyway, they pluck my body from the splinters, place me back on my horse, and we continue down the road.

Click for larger versions:

My own Sancho Panza and Rozinante

Future superhero Water music Skim a stone
Discarded technology Sausage indulgence Peaceful attic

310 miles round trip – A great mistake

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4 Responses to Taking the Long Way to Sancho Panza

  1. tylordurand says:

    All I can say is I’m truly honored. Has it been thirteen years? Amazing. Going down those roads is as much fun for me as it is for you. Always looking forward to the next adventure…T

  2. toadmama says:

    You’re lucky to have such an awesome sidekick! Thanks for sharing him with us. They are definitely family. No question. Sometimes family-by-friendship is better than blood relations. You got to pick him. You weren’t stuck with him. Know what I mean?

    Love the pics. Oscar in your gear is my favorite. Of course, I also love the one of you and Tylor with the brick. And the peaceful attic really does exude peace and quiet!

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