I was driving the mobile command vehicle recently, with the window down and the radio cranked up, when I chanced to encounter a sharp curve in the road.
Suddenly, I was transported back in time to my distant youth.
It was a December day in Duluth. Stryker was at the wheel of his red VW wagon, and the back seat was full of teenage girls. A couple guys were in the rear compartment, rolling around like cordwood and trying to hang on by their toenails.
Despite the fact it was snowing, and an icy breeze was howling down from Canada, I was seated on the passenger door. My legs were inside the vehicle, with my right foot hooked under the dash as an anchor. The rest of me was outside, clinging to a good-sized Christmas tree, trying to keep it centered on the icy roof of the car.
My pal, Stryker Livingstone, had decreed that we should have a Christmas party, and no Christmas party would be complete without a tree.
Some people might have taken the simple route and picked up a tree at one of the local tree lots, but Stryker was not most people.
Therefore, we piled into his car, drove to a wooded area north of the city, and trudged through waist-deep snow until he found the perfect tree.
He had remembered to bring a saw, but not a rope to tie the tree to the car.
That was how I ended up hurtling down horseshoe bend with Christmas music blaring while I tried to keep the tree and myself from flying into the ditch.
That was just another day with Stryker.
Back then, he was an art student at UMD.
Stryker was older than I, but we got along well and often did things together.
There was generally an element of danger in our adventures, and there was always a degree of unpredictability.
He never planned anything. He preferred to live in the moment. I’d get a call out of the blue, and he’d say, “We’re going skateboarding down dead man’s hill. I’ll pick you up in 10,” and hang up.
Other times, he wouldn’t bother to tell me where we were going. I’d have to figure it out as we went along.
Stryker was a guy who believed mountains were for climbing. He never took an easy path if there was a sheer cliff he could climb instead.
We spent a lot of our time on railroad trestles, in tunnels or rock quarries, or running along the tops of freight trains.
He had absolutely no fear.
When we faced the greatest danger, he would throw back his head, let go a maniacal laugh, and charge full speed ahead.
I’m astonished that we survived our adventures.
I often wondered how we had got into things, but generally by then it was too late to turn back. When one is halfway up a cliff, it’s better to go forward than to try to back down.
My brother had a Super 8 movie camera, and we filmed some of our outings in the style of the avant-garde.
In one scene, filmed from ground level, Stryker can be seen running along the icy roof of a loading platform at an abandoned railway station as if being chased. He gets to the end, takes one last look over his shoulder, and tries to hang-jump to safety. He lands flat on his back, and one can actually see him bounce off the concrete loading dock far below.
We thought for sure he was dead. After a few minutes, however, he opened his eyes, shook it off, and went on as if nothing had happened.
When riding shotgun with Stryker, one had to remain alert. We’d be driving along, and he would suddenly say, “Take the wheel!” He’d let go of the steering wheel and start taking off his jacket, or turn around and start fishing in the back seat for a bottle of Coke. His passenger was forced to steer the car, or face calamity.
Other times, he would demand fourth gear (or some other number) and depress the clutch and the passenger had to be ready to shift gears while he pretended to do something else.
His peculiar driving habits had their advantages. If I happened to be riding in the back seat with a girl, and if we came to a bend in the road, he would shout “opportunity curve!” and accelerate while quickly jerking the wheel, causing the unsuspecting female to be flung toward me by centrifugal force, similar to the way some amusement park rides work.
You can learn a lot about a person when she is suddenly pressed against you by the forces of physics.
I never knew what Stryker would come up with next.
I’m sure part of his shtick was deliberate designed to establish a character, and some was pure madness. As with any true genius, however, I was never really certain where that line was.
The uncertainty was part of the fun.
Stryker is still a brilliant artist, and his mind still works in strange and mysterious ways.
He retired after his career as an art director in Dallas, and recently moved to Pécs, Hungary with his wife and two children.
These days, he is teaching English to Hungarian students.
I learned a lot from Stryker about committing to a course of action, telling a story, creating one’s own reality, and laughing in the face of fear.
I’m confident if our paths were to cross tomorrow, he’d soon have me off on some absurd adventure, which, if we survived, would doubtless be great fun.