Thirty-five minutes after I kissed my daughter goodbye for the first time in her short life, a loud bang rang out from the engine bay of my trusty old Kia Optima. The subsequent clunk beneath my floorboard combined with a complete loss of power made it pretty clear that I was in trouble, and thanks to my experience working in the racing industry, I was able to make a pretty quick diagnosis:
“This thing’s a hunk of shit!”
It didn’t even sputter a disagreement as I crossed four lanes of traffic without the aid of power steering or brakes, and eased my newest paperweight to a stop on a narrow stretch of grass between the highway I was just on and a busy onramp. A bit of smoke coming from the engine bay dissipated as I popped in the hood, more for effect than for function. There was nothing my little bag of hand tools could do to mend the rod I’d just put through the side of the engine block.
SHOT Show is a spectacle to behold, or so I’ve been told. This was to be my first, and still might be, I thought as I sent my geo location to my wife to provide exfil, and to my brother, the race car driver with an enclosed car trailer, to pick up the remains of my college ride. My wife had some ground to cover, from my home in the woods to the busy highway outside of Atlanta, and she had our daughter with her … making the flight looked possible, though maybe a long shot.
If I’m being honest, I don’t know how upset that would have made me. I used to love traveling, and I’ve always loved Vegas, but after spending the last two years buried in my work and then having a daughter just eight weeks ago, the jet setting Alex of old had long since given way to the reclusive creature of habit I have to be in order to balance my work and family in a manageable way. That’s not even a complaint; I like being boring. I have my girls, my guns, and a never-ending supply of Netflix on my little patch of woods. Would could Vegas offer that could possibly compete?
Of course, competing isn’t what SHOT Show is about. It’s about meeting people I respect and learning more about our industry. It’s about seeing the gear that’s going to save good lives and end bad ones before the rest of the world gets to. It’s about meeting the people who read my writing — the very literal culmination of a lifelong dream. SHOT Show isn’t being BETTER than my family — it’s about participating in the community that I’ve called home for a long time now. Responsible gun owners, veterans, journalists and police officers, all gathered together to celebrate our shared interest in firearms and passion for defense of what we hold dear.
So I sat in my now dead car and waited to see my wife’s Honda come creeping up in the rear view mirror, simultaneously hoping she’d get me to the airport without incident … and that she wouldn’t. My emotional need to be there for my family and my responsible desire to be good at what I do, as is so often the case, were at odds with one another.
Times like that, to be completely honest, are where your team comes to bear. It’s in times like that, whether you’re sleeping in a hole you dug with an E-tool or you’re stuck on side of route 400 just outside of Atlanta, when you’re questioning your resolve, your discipline, that support matters most. In two phone calls, my wife and baby were en route to get me to the airport on time, and only a few minutes behind her my brother was in his diesel Dodge pickup, car trailer in tow, headed for what remained of my Kia.
“Hey man … I’m in a bind.” I shouted over the sound of passing traffic. “My car threw a rod halfway to Atlanta. Jamie’s en route but she’s got the baby to contend with.”
“Say no more. Drop me a GPS pin where you left the car. I’m two hours out.” My brother responded without so much as a sigh. I’ve always said that he would have made a better Marine than me, had he chosen that life.
As I boarded the plane, I got a text from my sister-in-law. It was a picture of my crappy Kia inside my brother’s enclosed car trailer, usually reserved for his race cars: a supercharged 350z, a Dodge Viper SRT-10, a Dodge Hellcat … and now one blown up 2008 Kia Optima having been the only sets of wheels to ever grace that trailer. My wife, tough as nails and more capable in a bind than most people I know, texted soon thereafter. Her and my daughter were on their way home, and they both wanted to wish me luck at SHOT.
If the start was any indicator, I just might need it.
Images courtesy of the author.
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