When I was a teenager in Northern Michigan, I was a die hard downhill skier. We had a few excellent ski resorts in my area. Before I had a drivers license and couldnt get a ride from anyone, I have been known in the company of my high school friend Rich, to ride the ‘Pud’ bus to the slopes. By ‘Pud’ bus, I mean the county’s small bus system, it is called dial-a-ride and when a bus is going your way, they pick you up wherever your at for a dollar (back then it was $1). A lot of losers(DUI’s, jobless, ect..) rode the buses, hence the name ‘Pud’. My first job was at the closest resort to where I lived. Rich and I both worked there. We’d get there early and ski until we had to work. Our employment there gave us excellent discounts and a season pass only cost me 1/2 price. Which meant I could ski anytime the runs were open. Night skiing was always my favorite. The slopes were not too full after dark unless one of the local radio stations had some promotional event going on.The tourists were easy to spot. Neon ski clothes, and a neon lift (chairlift) ticket taped to thier jacket’s zipper. All of us locals had season passes, a little picture badge to wear around your neck or on a clip. Usually the lift operators knew us locals all by name and by the color of our ski gear/apparel. We hated it when the tourists invaded our turf on the weekends. But, the weekends brought NasStar Racing. They had 2 kinds of races:
1. downhill, a steep descent in a race against time
2. slalom, raced on a sharply twisting course marked off by flags
I once won a gold in the slalom. My friend Rich was a talented skier, he rarely never won anything BUT gold pins. We had a great boss and he let us race on our breaks when we worked saturdays.
Best friend L. was not an excellent skier. But she came along to be a good sport and she also thought Rich was hot. Besides, the local resort was the hot spot in the winter. L. used to snow-plow her way just about everywhere and stayed on the simple runs, never venturing with us when we took off in a pack, whooping and hollering down the black diamond and double black runs. She’d always be waiting at the bottom of the hill, usually talking to some guy hitting on her. Best friend L. was never at a loss of men wooing her, she had a pretty good following.
Anyhow, what got me reminiscing was this evening, I cleaned out 3 jewelry boxes, one that I had packed away a very long time ago. Inside I had my NasStar pins and 4 of Rich’s Gold pins he had won during the winters of ’85 and ’86. A Rossignol key chain that came with my last new pair of skis and a picture of Rich in much better days. His Kevin Bacon styled hair and his big, even toothed smile, and his trademark black ski clothing, he was standing on his bright red skis. I looked at his picture and remembered him riding me double on the handle bars of his BMX bike before we could drive. I remember how bad I made him feel when I started dating M. who that the cool car and was 2 years older than us. Rich still came around, flopped on my bed and we listened to Metallica, Quiet Riot, and other metal bands. We just talked and hung out. Rich was the oldest in his large Catholic family. I visited him a lot at his home, a warm and friendly house it seemed when I was there. Rich never seemed really happy to me. He used to do stupid stuff, like jump off the chairlift at a high point before it quit, he was agile as a cat, but still he took big risks. Once he told our High School Principle to “F*ck Off”, the guy needed to be told that, but ummmmmmmm not by a student. He moved down state to Ann Arbor right after we graduated. Rich was very smart, he scored 3rd highest on his ACT’s in our school system. He had plans to attend the University the following fall. Best friend L. and I were attending college a lot closer to home.
On our X-mas break my first year in college, I bumped into Rich at the local ski resort. He looked bad, like he was living a hard life for all of his barely 19 years. He was skiing with a money crowd, but the kind that didnt come from good money. He was drunk or messed up on something that last day I saw him. I remember our last chair lift ride up the back of the mountain. We were sitting side by side just like we did years before, swinging our skis and watching the people under us. Rich didnt have much to say except he dropped out of college and was playing his sax at gigs for money. His parents followed his move down state, he was happy about that. Then we jumped off the lift. When we reached the end of our ramp and we were both poised at the top of the mountain preparing for our steep descent, Rich leaned over and gave me a huge goggle and ski boot clanking hug. He let go and disappeared into the blowing snow. Almost a year later to that day, Rich overdosed on New Years Eve. Intentional? I do not know, maybe.
Rich’s sister M. is 2 years younger than him and looks just like him. I bumped into her about 3 years ago in my home town. She went off to school and married a chiropractor. She seemed quite happy. We talked inside Wal-Mart off to a corner that was not so busy. She said both her parents has passed away. Things were always strange after Rich died she said. Her parents never got over it, especially her father. She had moved back to our hometown when she married and they were living on Maple street in her parent’s house. I was suprised they still owned the remodeled farmhouse. I drove by there a few days after our visit and noticed a lot of flowers and welcome signs in the yard. Tonite I emailed her a copy of the picture of Rich, she was delighted and sent me back one of he and I sitting inside our schools gym looking like a couple of flash dance characters…it was funny. I had some HUGE 80’s hair going on…