My Wife was Driving, Officer

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Decembers never lack action, significance or commemoration.

Earlier this month Laree and I topped the tank and drove down the California coast to Santa Monica where we attended a memorial honoring the great legend of bodybuilding, Reg Park. Reg, three times winner of Mr. Universe and the colossal Hercules of the movie world, died on America’s celebrated Thanksgiving Day. He was 79 years old. He was our friend.

We delayed our arrival at the memorial to avoid the awkwardness often accompanying similar occasions -- scattered faces strangely familiar, old acquaintances whose names have been misplaced, clutches of family members engaged in warm conversation, a table of food and drink undergoing tentative picking, poking and sampling.

Hi, how are you? Oh, yes, we met at the Arnold Expo last spring. So... How long have you known Reg? A great guy, indeed! Have you tried the meatballs?

With 15 minutes to spare, my girl and I walked down a quiet and elegant corridor at the Fairmont Hotel on the palisades passing French doors opening to conference halls and party rooms and were eventually escorted through a dimly lit portal by a well-dressed man in black. We squeezed into the rear ranks of the gathering and were consumed immediately by a dark-suited flood of Reg Park admirers.

Crowded into a sizeable and fashionable ballroom were some 500 devotees who, with sober yet uplifted spirits, buzzed and hummed in celebration of Reg’s grand life. Laree and I joined Zabo and Steve Cepello, life preservers in the overflow, at a rearmost safe place in close proximity of the exit.

There’s Lou and Carla. “Hey, Lou and Carla!” Arnold’s heading this way. “Good to see you again, Governor.” Arnold arranged the momentous gathering for his lifelong friend and mentor. Gracious… Outstanding… Very cool! He’s busy, you know. I see Samir Bannout, John Balik of IronMan and Gene Mozee and Brad Harris. Great, here comes Jon Jon, the steely son of the man of steel, the shadow of the legend, as he proudly calls himself. Laree and I get in our hugs and well-wishes as he swims through the tide. Go, Jon Jon. The butterfly is his best stroke.

The place was aglow with muscle-world luminaries and visiting them was like breeching flames in a wildfire. Feeling vulnerable to the heat, we agreeably drenched ourselves in the nearest outpouring of greetings and watched the spreading blaze from afar.

A dozen friends and family members addressed the folks, stirring them with personal experiences that underscored the rare magnificence of the man. Love, generosity and strength of character shadowed his physical muscle and might.

We were reminded how deep love is by his wife Mareon, how wide by his daughter, Jeunesse, how strong by his son, Jon Jon, how innocent by his granddaughter, Tamarac. Arnold and Franco reminded us of how human and fun and engaging love is by relating their riotous antics when touring the South African countryside with the muscular, fun-loving and prophetic man.

Reg is gone, but no more forgotten than the wind, the lightening and thunder
Reg is our magnetic north
He shines, the sun by day and the moon by night
He’s the light at the end of the tunnel
You might know him as the warmth of a cloak on a cold day
Or the wet of water on a parched day
Are you lost? He’s the way home
You hurt? The big man is the hug of a friend in need
He’s a mother’s kiss and a dad’s reassurance

The last word is spoken -- God bless him, long may he live in our hearts -- and the dam wall is broken and a flow of human beings plunges toward the exit doors. Somewhat unwillingly, L and I stream like unloosed logs to the parking lot where valets hustle to prevent a logjam and free the crowd into the early night. 10 minutes later we were on Pacific Coast Highway heading north and piecing bits together.

It’s dark. We need gas. We could use a cup. There’s a Starbucks and a 76. Zoom putter stop!

Malibu is to our left and right and signs of the recent violent fires are visible in the spare night light. Further sadness permeates our body, mind and soul: scorched hillsides, burned-out structures, nature and man against man and nature; pain, cruelty and flaming magnificence; heroes and heroism, broken hearts and frightened wildlife; remarkable, deplorable, unstoppable and unthinkable.

The road stretches on, it narrows, it winds, it broadens and it liberates its travelers as it ages with the night.

I’d begun our rather sudden retreat at 55 MPH (snore), the speed limit, remembering our last voyage through the region a year ago and being urged to “pull over” by Malibu’s finest, the lights on his cruiser blinking like the eyes of a ferocious and hungry wolf. “75 in a 55, fella. What’s the rush?” There was none!

His ticket book was in hand and he rifled through its pages to locate the appropriate spot for his dutiful scrawl. Nuts. Laree had some sort of cute grin on her cute face, I recall. Double nuts! A squawk on his walkie-talkie gained his attention and a high-sign from his partner had him returning to his car in haste. “Slow down, bub,” he blurted in retreat, “I’ve got an emergency at the village.”

Good thing. Just when I was about to reveal my true identity and overpower him with lightening fast submission holds, the man in blue returned my ID. It was another time, long ago.

Various points of our travel positioned us on high ridges with Highway 1 stretching before the glow of our high beams... just us and the open road, rolling hills, spare travelers and no commercial or residential life.

The earth is vast and lonely in the dark of night. And the In ‘n Out Burger (yummo) is an hour away... eternity.

I held it at 70 MPH in compliance with the open road speed limit. 75, a neat number, crept silently upon the speedometer. Laree was motionless... he he. Vehicles going downhill mysteriously go faster, I noticed, as we journeyed downhill along the rim of the Pacific near Morro Bay. Whew, we’re flying... 80 in the blink of an eye. I pulled back on the throttle and regained control of our flying tin can. Tough being a bomber after midnight.

Another dark and vast land area ahead with a straight downward grade and Laree’s eyes are closed. How can I pass up the opportunity? Hello, 9, 0. 90’s too fast even for me, but not a soul’s in sight... except for that faint headlight way, way behind us. I reduce speed and 80 feels slow, 70 and I’m ready to parallel park, 60 and I swear were going in reverse... Oh, no! Gasp… It’s the wide-eyed, ferocious wolf from outta nowhere.

Laree is actually laughing as I lower the window to converse with the local police officer (he looks 20). We unanimously agreed I was speeding... I’m twinkling with humility and honesty and sobriety (my greatest attributes)... and the young lad with the gun and my license excuses himself to check my identification. As I was explaining to Laree that laughter was not the appropriate response to my critical circumstances, the officer returned to ask if I was the real Dave Draper.

Dave who? Lie or tell the truth, that is the question. Hmm... think fast.

Turns out he lifted weights in the ‘90s when he was preparing for the police academy and chose me and my training methods to assist him. He likes Arnold and Platz, too, and no way was he going to give me a ticket. He didn’t know I was a hardcore criminal who broke speeding laws whenever he thought no one was looking. His patrol partner joined the occasion, peering through the driver-side window from a distance.

We parted old friends and Laree and I were on our way... 200 miles at 55 MPH. Cruise control, snooze control.

I landed our craft in one piece at the hangar’s door at 2:30 AM. Hungry and sleepy and irritable, Mugsy looked at me with knowing wiliness, as if to say, “The wolf man stopped ya again, didn’t he?”

Ready or not, 2008, here we come.

Bombs away... Dave and Laree

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