There are so many things that I could say about a person I first met more than half my life ago. The vast majority of the time I spent with Rich was when I was in my twenties and early thirties, during the periods in my itinerant life when I lived in Massachusetts and Connecticut. I’ve only met this wonderful woman, Malvys, a couple of times, and for geographical and other logistical reasons, I’ve only gotten in little visits with Rich now and then in the past couple decades.
But Rich is one of those people where every time I see him, it feels like we’re just picking up where we left off the other day, even if the other day was a year earlier.
As time passes, memories fade and become more vague, and it’s the sharpest, most poignant ones that rise above the clouds, like mountain peaks, is how they often feel to me.
I remember meeting Rich, outside of a Grateful Dead show somewhere in Virginia, sometime around 1987 or ‘88. I was traveling more or less aimlessly at the time, having recently dropped out of college, unsure of my next move. Rich and Rodger offered to give me a ride to Boston, and I have no idea how many nights I spent sleeping on Rich’s floor, but I remember that eventually we were actual housemates. It’s the welcome, the kindness and generosity that I remember most from this period.
The next sharp memory is undoubtedly driving across the US, from Somerville to San Francisco, with a colorful variety of other folks, in Rodger’s VW microbus. For whatever reason, probably because we were young and foolish, we were making the trip nonstop, those of us who could drive taking turns at the wheel, keeping the poor old van on the road constantly. I don’t remember what month it was, but it must have been sometime in the winter, because everyone who wasn’t driving was covered in layers of blankets at all times. Whoever was driving, who had to move limbs and such, had to just freeze.
Through that long first night on the road I marveled at Rich’s ability to find things anyone was looking for. The rest of us were just groping around in the dark ineffectually. Somewhere in Indiana someone figured out how to turn on the heat, and for a while we were warm and cozy in there, until we broke down in Oklahoma in the middle of the night during a blizzard, which I believe was entirely my fault.
But it was when we encountered a freak snow storm on the highway in southern California, trucks jackknifed and strewn about the median like a giant toddler threw them all there, that I recall noticing the size and strength of Rich’s biceps. Our windshield wiper broke at this inopportune moment, and Rich managed to keep the wipers going manually from behind the dashboard, at great physical effort, until we got through the snow storm. I think we made it to the Grateful Dead show on time.
For many years, my memories of Rich are wrapped up with acoustic guitars and subways. There were different musicians who tended to play at different stops. On the days when I was playing at my preferred spot on Park Street (Red Line central platform), I’d often have reason to be going to Davis Square, where Rich could often be found, melodically flatpicking away at a blistering pace.
A memory that pokes above the clouds because of the sheer terror involved was driving on the left hand side of the road for the first time, while in the middle of the city of London, England. It’s a terrible place to drive on any side of the road. Although Rich was neither able to drive nor navigate (back in those days before we all had cell phones with built-in GPS’s that talked to us), his presence in the passenger seat was always reassuring and empathetic, like an emotional anchor in a stressful situation, a role he played in my life on many, many occasions.
Inevitably, a little piece of physical drama is one of the more memorable moments. Our trip to England ended up taking us to Ireland, through an Irish woman we met at a festival in England. Next thing we knew, Rich and I were traveling across Ireland with Josephine, heading towards her home town of Ennis, when Rich had to pee.
We were in the middle of green fields, which went on on both sides of the road for a long ways. None of us had explored these fields, apparently, but they were clearly there. There often weren’t any fences or stone walls or anything between the road and the field, but there was this little hump. By all visual appearances, the field was on the other side of the hump.
Rich encountered the hump, and kept walking, figuring apparently he’d get a little further away from the road before emptying his bladder. What none of us realized was that on the other side of the hump was the field, but in between the hump and the field was a ditch. Rich went over the hump and then quickly disappeared from view, at a pace that was immediately alarming to both Josephine and I.
We feared the worst, having no idea what that might be, but as it turned out, Rich landed well in the ditch, avoiding injury, though not emerging mud-free.
I could continue with other memories, but I’ll just leave you with that one, and make room for someone else to say something.