Funny you should ask ... Tim Gamble

Who inspires you?

Who didn’t? As far back as I can remember, I watched, I listened, and I learned with wonder. I was always acutely tuned in to the events as they unfolded around me. I had a natural inclination to be cautious while trying to figure out what was happening, trying to figure out if I’d be compromised in some way. In retrospect, I saw a lot of people do a lot of stupid stuff. I also experienced a great deal of kindness along the way. I watched in all curiosity the effect that people had on each other. I was told many stories by the people I met through the years. I won’t tell you their stories though, that’s up to them, but I will tell you about some of my encounters.

When I was a young man, I spent my summers traveling around the country. One year just after I graduated from high school, my mother asked me to spend some time with a psychologist. She was concerned that I needed some professional help to put me on a better path. For the past few years, I’d been disappearing for months at a time only to reappear with stories of some new wild adventure. She was very concerned about my choices and asked me to see a psychologist friend of hers. She introduced me to the doctor, whose name escapes me at this point. But nevertheless, I did sit in his office and talk a few times a week while he tried to figure out what I was all about and what motivated me to do the things I was doing.

I was given Rorschach tests, IQ tests, describe what you see in this picture tests, among others. I could see that the doctor was fascinated with my answers as he asked me to describe all my actions for the past several years and how I felt about all the situations I found myself in. When the conversation turned to some of my mother’s concerns, I told the psychologist, “It wasn’t that I don’t care about anything. I do. It’s just that I don’t care about the things that she cares about. I don’t need her grief or anyone else’s for that matter dumped on me. What I find fascinating is that everyone has some kind of hassle that lights them up, whether it’s a classmate, a teacher, or whatever, but it just never ends. I listen to my friends rail on, but after a bit I find myself drifting off and looking for the exits. You quickly learn that they thrive on their own emotional hooey. They really don’t care about what you think or need your help, they only care about putting themselves in the spotlight. They love the attention their nonsense creates for them. When it comes right down to it, I’m probably the same in many ways. I do tell a lot of stories.” I could see that the doctor was surprised and intrigued by my responses. “As far as your mother is concerned, don’t you think she simply wants the best for you?” he asked. “Maybe,” I responded. “But for me, her concern feels more like control. Nothing she says is in a ‘take it for what it’s worth or I’m only trying to help’ frame of mind. When she opens her mouth, I immediately get defensive, ready to play verbal volleyball with her. If I let her win, she’d own me body and soul.” “Is that why you choose to randomly disappear, to avoid these engagements with your mother?” he asked. “I never thought about it that way. I like to tell myself it’s to see what’s on the other side of the hill,” I replied. “Is that true?" He asked. “Not exactly. If I don’t like where I’m at, I simply go somewhere else,” I replied. “That’s not true either is it?” He asked. “I’m not sure what you’re trying to get at, but what I like is the freedom I feel when I leave it all behind and experience new sights, new sounds, new people. I enjoy stepping off the planet so to speak. I find it instantly takes the world off my shoulders. I enjoy the brief interactions with the people I meet along the way. The encounters fascinate me. I see the world differently when I engage with people who don’t know me and want nothing from me. I never went looking for or expected anything other than a ride, but I was always moved by the kindnesses that these perfect strangers seemed willing to afford me. I don’t know why, but so many times the kind souls I would meet along the way would graciously hand me a buck or two or offer to buy me a meal, then wish me good luck in my travels.” “Aren’t you afraid you’ll find yourself in a dangerous situation or get lost somewhere?” He asked. “It’s impossible to get lost if you don’t have a destination. As far as dangerous situations, they’re everywhere,” I replied. “That’s not true either, is it?” He remarked. I said, “No, it’s not, but the whole idea is to vanish, to disappear, to give yourself some room and some time to get lost in your thoughts. I did a lot of walking, but I did a lot more thinking.” The doctor replied with, “Your mother is also worried that you don’t communicate very well, that you fend off her concerns with your glib remarks.” “Yeah, I do that sometimes. It’s no big deal,” I said. “Would you say you do this most of the time?” He asked. “No, not really,” I replied. “Then why some of the time?” He asked. “To be fair, my remarks aren’t exactly offhand or discourteous. They’re more misdirection, meant to throw you off balance or to ‘flip the script’ with simple misunderstandings or absurd comments. Like I said before, it’s verbal volleyball. If I don’t like the direction the conversation is headed, I make a joke out of it by misinterpreting what was said in some humorous or unexpected way. It’s a gift.” “Can you see why this deflection might be off-putting to some people?” He asked. “Sure, but I only try to frustrate the people who want something from me when I’m not ready to give it,” I replied. “You mean like a serious conversation?” He asked. “Yeah, maybe but it’s usually more like defending myself against a developing power dynamic that’s trying to put me in an inferior position. It’s just an easy way, at least for me, to avoid, undesirable situations without escalating them into something I know I’ll regret later. Like I said, it’s a gift.”

We worked on a lot of things over the next few weeks until I told the doctor I wasn’t coming back. He expressed that it probably wasn’t a good idea to discontinue our conversations and asked me why I chose to quit. I told him I was headed for New York to see if I could find my father. I hadn’t seen or heard from him in a couple of years, and I had some questions. His response was curious to me. He said, “I thought you might.” I asked him, on my way out the door, “Any last words?” Again, he made a very curious comment. He said, “Don’t tell your mother how smart you are. She’ll only use it against you.”

I’d hitchhiked around the West quite a bit, but I’d never been east of Colorado since our family moved to Scottsdale from Ithaca when I was a 7-year-old boy. The first few days of the trip were slow going and uneventful. I met several other travelers along the way, which was often the case. Just outside of Albuquerque I met a couple of fellows from Canada who were heading East, and they cautioned me to stay out of the South. There were some strange things going on in that part of the country. They’d heard from other travelers that hitchhikers weren’t welcome and not to test the local constabulary or you might wind up doing a stint in a local labor camp picking peas or some such nonsense. Good to know.

I headed toward St. Louis instead. I’d already been up for a couple of days with no sleep and my “spidey sense” was more keen than usual. When you travel around the country by getting in and out of cars, you develop an acute awareness of your surroundings. I had an uneasy feeling when I hit the outskirts of St. Louis. I got a ride from an elderly gentleman, an African American man in an old sedan. As we wound our way through the streets downtown, I could see that the area had seen better days. It reminded me of pictures I’d seen of the war damage in Europe. It wasn’t at all like traveling through the West. The West was more like a picture postcard than the hellscape that was rolling by outside the car window. I asked the gentleman, “What the heck happened here?” “It’s like this clear past East St. Louis,” he replied. “As a matter of fact, you should be careful while you’re here. There’s trouble around every corner.” I told him I wasn’t staying in St. Louis. I was headed to New York. “I tell you what, I’ll get you over the bridge and past the city. I don’t want to have to worry about you later.” We drove for miles before he pulled over and said, “You’ll probably be alright from here." I thanked him for his kindness, for going so far out of his way to help me. He dropped me off in Illinois, in the middle of farm country.

I made my way to just outside of Wheeling, West Virginia. It was in the wee hours of the morning. It was cold. The air was thick with fog. I’d been walking for hours, and I was completely worn-out. The road was narrowing and there was no place to walk on the shoulder. As a truck approached, the lights in the fog were blinding. The truck looked like it was coming straight at me. I quickly jumped to the other side of the guardrail to avoid being hit. There was no other side of the guardrail. I tumbled down a steep embankment into a marshy area at the bottom of the hill. I was at the shore of the Ohio River. The fall knocked the tar out of me. I was able with some difficulty to make it back up the slippery slope to the bridge. As the sun was coming up and burning off the fog, a farmer in a pickup truck stopped to give me a lift. He saw that I was a bit of a mess and offered to take me back to his house so I could get cleaned up and have his wife make me breakfast. I should have said yes, but I kept going. Everything gets a little confusing from here. I found a place along the highway to crash and try to get a few hours of sleep. I was thoroughly exhausted but unable to settle my mind enough to doze off, so I got up and continued my journey.

It was mid-morning. I was somewhere in Pennsylvania when I got a ride from a fellow driving a new Mustang Fastback. I told him I was headed for New York. He told me he was headed to Washington D.C. and could take me as far as Harrisburg. I told him I had a grandmother that lived in Washington D.C. I hadn’t seen her since I was 9, but she sends me a birthday card every year with a dollar in it, so I assume she’s still around. He pulled the car into a roadside restaurant and offered to buy me something to eat. I told him that sounded great. We sat in a booth and ordered and talked a bit as we waited for the waitress to bring us our lunch order. He told me he was an Air Force Lieutenant on leave who bought a new car and decided to see a bit of the country before heading back to D.C. I just listened. I could barely put two sentences together. The waitress brought us our food. The Lieutenant tore into his burger, I could hardly manage to eat one of the French fries I’d ordered. He asked me if I was okay. I told him I was fine; I was just a bit tired, that I’d been up for a few days, and I think I’m starting to wind down. When we got back on the road again, I fell asleep in the front seat of the car, leaning up against the window. The next thing I knew I was awakened with a few shoulder nudges. “Time to wake up. We’re coming up on my exit. Unless you want to go to Washington, it’s time to rise and shine." As I was clearing the cobwebs from my head, I said, “Washington sounds good to me.”

As we got closer to the city, the Lieutenant asked me where I wanted to be dropped off. I said anywhere would be fine. He then suggested dropping me off at the airport saying, “Your grandmother probably knows where the airport is; maybe you could call her, and she could come and pick you up.” “Sounds like a good idea to me,” I replied. The Lieutenant drove to Dulles and dropped me off. I thanked him again for lunch and the ride. He wished me luck and drove away.

Once inside the terminal, I found a phone booth and flipped through the white pages to try and find my grandmother’s phone number. She wasn’t listed. I called up the information operator and she couldn’t find the number either. She asked me what the address was. I told her, “Hang on a minute. I think I have it here in my wallet.” I had torn off the return address from the birthday card my grandmother had sent me two weeks earlier thinking I was going to send her a thank you card for my dollar. I read the address to the telephone operator, and she said, “There is no listing at that address.” I thanked her and hung up the phone. While I was standing there contemplating my next move, a young stewardess approached me and asked me if I needed some help. I must have looked a little dazed and confused. She asked me to sit and tell her what I was trying to do. I told her about the day’s events and that I was trying to get to New York to find my father but decided to stop for a little rest at my grandmother’s house. I showed her the torn corner of the envelope with her address on it and explained that the operator couldn’t find the number. Now I have to figure out where this address is from here. She told me she was familiar with the Washington area and could probably narrow down my search. She looked at the address and said, “Are you sure she lives in Washington, D.C.? This looks like Washington, N.C.” I looked at the address and indeed it said Washington, N.C. I asked her, “How far is that?” “At least a few hundred miles I imagine, she replied. “How far is it to New York? I asked. “Probably less,” she answered. I sighed and said, “I may as well head north then.” Then she said that she might be able to help me. She was headed to New York on the shuttle. “I’ll see if I can get you a seat.” I told her I didn’t have enough money for a plane ticket. She said, “Let me worry about that.”

We boarded the plane. It was a small commuter jet. The stewardess sat me down next to a gentleman who had his nose deep in a pile of papers. He looked up at me over his half glasses, and I could see by the expression on his face that I wasn’t a welcome sight. He put away his papers, closed his attaché case and folded up his tray table. I apologized for my appearance saying, “I’m sorry. I probably smell like a goat; please forgive me.” He looked at me and asked me a strange question. “How is it that you and I are sitting together?” I told him, “I hitchhiked from Scottsdale, Arizona, and I’m on my way to New York to try and find my father. I don’t know exactly where he lives but I think he works for Western Union in Manhattan.” I asked him the same question. He told me he was on his way to Geneva, Switzerland on business. It was a short flight to LaGuardia. The gentleman sitting next to me was intrigued with our conversation and asked me all kinds of questions about me and my quest. When we landed, I told him I enjoyed our conversation, and I was glad that we met. He asked me if I knew how to get to the Western Union Building. I told him, “No, but I can ask directions when I get to Manhattan.” He asked me If I knew how to get to Manhattan. Before I could answer, he said, “Why don’t we share a cab?” Once again, I cried poverty and he said, “Don’t worry about it, get in,” as he held the door of the cab open. He told the cab driver to take him to the Pan Am Building. During our ride into Manhattan, he kept on saying turn here, turn there. What he was doing was pointing out some of the landmark buildings in New York. He finally told the driver to head for his final destination so he could catch the helicopter to Kennedy International. He paid the cab driver and told him to take me to Hudson Street, to the Western Union Building, and not to charge me anymore for the ride and gave him a generous tip. He wished me good luck and I thanked him for the cab ride and the tour.

The cabbie let me off at the Western Union Building. I went inside and looked on the giant building directory for my father’s name. It wasn’t there. I took the elevator to the Administration floor and the doors to the offices were locked. It was past 5 o’clock and it appeared that everyone had gone. I saw someone in the office in the back, and I banged on the door until she noticed me. She came over to tell me that they were closed for the weekend and to come back on Monday. I told her I was looking for my father, George Gamble. She looked at me, and said I looked familiar and smiled as she unlocked the door. “George has a picture of all of you on his desk.” We went back to her office, and she told me that I had just missed him, “He left about a half hour ago.” She got on the phone and called up his wife, Betty, at their home in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. She listened, took some notes, and when the conversation ended relayed Betty’s message to me. Tell Tim to make his way to the Port Authority Bus Terminal at the end of the George Washington Bridge, then call us and we’ll pick him up there. The secretary asked me if I knew my way around New York and I told her no, not at all. She said, “It’s easy. Just go out of the front of the building, go across the street, and catch the subway train to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Here you’ll need this when you get there. It’s your father’s phone number.”

I went across the street to the subway station. There were trains going everywhere. I asked someone which train I should take to get to the GW Bridge. The fellow pointed to a train and said this one will get you there. I thanked him and got on the train. After about 20 minutes or so, I asked someone I was sitting next to, “How long will it be before we get to the Port Authority Bus Terminal?” “This train doesn’t go to the bus terminal,” she replied. I got off at the next stop. I was standing in front of the Bronx Zoo. I called the number the secretary had given me. My father answered the phone. “Are you at the Port Authority Terminal?” he asked. I told him I was at the Bronx Zoo. He said, “Listen carefully. You can’t be there. You need to get out of there right now. Go find a cop and have him help you. Do you think you can do that?” I said, “Yeah, sure, I can do that.” “Okay, we’ll pick you up soon. We’re going to leave now, so you won’t be able to get a hold of us again,” he cautioned. I walked down a few blocks through a surreal setting of dilapidated buildings with folks hanging out of windows staring at me. I approached a policeman standing at the corner. I told him of my predicament. He told me not to worry. He’d get me to where I needed to be. We walked down the street to a bus stop and waited for the next bus. The door swung open, and the officer went in to have a brief conversation with the driver. He came out and told me the bus will drop me off at the Port Authority and not to worry about the fare. The bus drove around for several stops when I noticed a partially obstructed road sign that said Port Authority. I got off the bus and walked toward the sign. It was a freeway entrance sign that said Port Authority with a big arrow pointing to the freeway onramp. I followed the road for a few blocks until the road started to descend into a tunnel. I knew I couldn’t walk through the tunnel, so I climbed up the embankment to another road. I was in the middle of a group of tall residential buildings, worse than over by the Bronx Zoo. I was pondering what my next move was when a yellow cab pulled up and the cabbie told me to get in. I told him, a large African American man, that I didn’t have any money. He said, “I’m just trying to save you from the mess you’re in. I don’t know how you got here but you can’t be in this part of town.” As he quizzed me about my situation he said, “Sounds like you’ve had quite a day. You’re not that far from the bus station. I’ll get you the rest of the way.” I told him, “Thanks, I appreciate this more than you know. You’re a lifesaver.”

After a short ride we pulled up to the bus terminal, I got out, shook his hand, and thanked him again. The sun was starting to go down when I finally stepped into the terminal. I didn’t see my father right away, but after a few minutes of surveying the crowd, I saw him at the other end of the terminal. As I was walking towards him, he spotted me and started walking with his wife and kids towards me. This felt like the longest part of the journey. I just wanted it to be over. I had nothing left in the tank.

I visited with my dad for a few days, half of which I spent sleeping, but that’s not the story. I went to New York because I thought I had questions that needed answering or at least that’s what I told myself when I walked out of the psychologist’s office. In the end, it turns out I didn’t really have any questions only some unresolved feelings. My dad even asked me, “I suppose you have a few questions about me and your mother.” I answered without a second thought, “Not really. That’s your life not mine, and it’s really none of my business.” After a bit of conversation, my issues seemed to fade away. It began to dawn on me that I was in the wrong place and that I needed to move on. My father had a new life, a new family, and I was obviously interfering with everyone’s routine. Don’t get me wrong, my dad and Betty were very cordial, very inviting but I wasn’t a piece of their puzzle, and they weren’t a piece of mine either. My dad asked me how long I planned on staying. I told him, “I have to leave in the morning; I have an appointment at the university next week that I can’t miss.” “Are you planning on 'thumbing it' back?" He asked. I told him I was. He said, ”Maybe I can help you out a little bit. Let me make a phone call.” He called his brother, Everitt, my uncle, who was a senior pilot with United Airlines and told him that I was there and needed a ride back to Phoenix. He said, “No problem.” I told my dad I didn’t want him to “shell out” for a ticket that I was perfectly capable of managing my own way back home. He said, “Don’t worry, nobody’s paying for a ticket.” After staying a few more days in New Jersey, we met Uncle Everitt at Kennedy Airport. He had some kind of pass to get me a seat on a jet headed to Phoenix. We said our goodbyes and promised to stay in touch, which we did with some regularity for the next 30 plus years until he passed away in 2003.

The story is, of course, about “Who inspires me?” My answer was, “Who didn’t?” This story was just an example of a day in the life on the road when I was young. From the time the sun rose up in Wheeling until it went down again in New York City, I met a series of people who had a hand in shaping me into the person I am today. I can’t help but think back on the kindnesses that were shown to me by people who had nothing to gain by helping me. They just did it out of the kindness of their hearts. I learned that you can only acknowledge someone’s deeds with a smile and a handshake, but if you want to really thank them you need to pay it forward and extend the same kindness to others you may meet along the way. This story isn’t even the most illustrative example of the kindness I encountered or the inspiration I found in my travels. There are so many more stories to tell.

 

 



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