As summer ended, Ryan took the middle-aged car to the mechanic to make sure it was road worthy.
He was giving it to his son Rory who had, at last, gotten his driver’s license and was starting his junior year at the upstate college in the last week of August. The kid he used to carry on his shoulders to go watch LIRR trains roar in and out of the station had come home in mid-May topping six feet tall.
“You could carry me on your shoulders,” Ryan said.
“We better go to the gym first, Daddy-O,” he said, laughing.
That’s one of the first father/son things they did in the spring, sometimes walking the two miles to the gym to grunt the resistance machines, discussing the state of the world, the hourly fresh insanity blaring from Washington, DC, the 2020 presidential race, the shape of the planet that Rory and his kids would nurse deep into the 21st Century, long after Ryan walked his final mile.
“I study politics because it’s what I feel passionate about,” he said. “I’ll probably take some law classes too so that I can find a place in government or, who knows, maybe write a few someday. I just want to spend my life at a job that makes a difference.”
Ryan encouraged him to follow his progressive passions even if the ideals of youth would almost certainly someday cure into pragmatic compromise.
“Remember that it’s a process,” Ryan told him. “Like working out. You start with light weights and build. Remember last year when I tried to keep up with you on the bench press? Tore my rotator. I asked the orthopedic doctor what I could do about it. He said, ‘You’re old. Act your age. Lighter weights, more reps.’ Same with politics. Change comes slowly. Listen, I was at Woodstock and 50 years later we’re just starting to legalize marijuana. I know guys who did heavy jail time for weed back in the day.”
“Things like that anger me,” said Rory. “Waste of human life, and money for police, DAs, judges, jail guards, parole boards, parole officers. For what? Smoking a plant doctors prescribe for all kinds of illnesses now. I don’t even like weed but how can booze be legal and not marijuana? Same with bail reform. That’s finally happening. But we need immediate gun control laws. We can’t wait 50 years for reform with more mass shootings than there are days in the year in America. And environmental laws, that can’t be a slow process like legalizing weed. The planet will be destroyed if we don’t do something now.”
The kid knew his stuff, talking about the reckless banks and Wall Street after the repeal of Dodd Frank, how race was still tearing the nation apart 55 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the need to bring back stronger unions to assure wage growth and an equitable distribution of wealth, the disastrous tax cut, 80 percent of which went to the top one percent of the people and health care for all.
They had conversations like that all summer, in restaurants, eating pub grub in local taverns, over pizza after movies like “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood,” where Rory picked Ryan’s brain about the Manson murders and the time Ryan had spent living in Los Angeles before traffic turned the land of movies into a 500-square-mile gridlocked drive-in.
Rory did a slew of house chores, research for Ryan, and at night, Rory would go out with his pals, to parties, to Ladies Nights in local gin mills, or weekends boating out of Sag Harbor.
Now that he was old enough, Rory read one his father’s novels. Nothing makes a kid’s old man feel better than to see his son crack up laughing at his crazy characters or comical dialogue. When he was done reading, he starting reading a second of Ryan’s books, much of it taking place in the year 1969.
“How much of this stuff is true, Dad?”
“None of your business.”
Rory laughed and said, “That’s all I needed to know.”
They palled around in the daytime of spring, father and adult son who always took the wheel in the proper order of life.
Ryan started a full-time job in Manhattan writing for a celebrated TV show. The gig was fun and rewarding and, after work, Rory would pick up Ryan at the same LIRR station where the kid used to jump up and down as a toddler watching the “Traaaaaaaaain!”
They’d eat dinner together, watch and discuss the news, and then Rory would dress for nights of pool parties, Mets games, concerts, Fourth of July fireworks, a family reunion, and then the Amazin’ post All-Star Break Mets streak. Then came the shorter days of August as time ticked to the start of his junior year of college.
Last week, Rory said, “Wanna take a ride with me upstate, Dad? I have to buy a bed for my room in our apartment.”
He was sharing an apartment overlooking the Hudson River with two college pals he’d been going to school with since kindergarten.
Ryan knew it was going to be his final father/son alone time together until Thanksgiving. So, he took the old car that would be his son’s first car to get it road ready. They’d go roundtrip to buy bedroom furniture, gabbing all the way about family, movies, TV, books, sports, breaking news, and politics.
It wasn’t a summer of monumental milestone events in their lives. But when his son got his license and became mature enough to also be his pal, it went down as a season Ryan would never forget.
On Sunday morning, Rory wouldn’t need his dad to drive him back to school. Ryan would watch his son pack the car, and embrace in a back-slapping goodbye, and then he’d jingle his own car and apartment keys, start the engine, and drive himself north into manhood.