Dad would talk to anyone, even Kenny Rogers. No shit, Kenny Rogers. I was quite embarrassed actually. Not about meeting Kenny Rogers, but because of Dad’s chronic acts of friendship. He’d walk up to a stranger on the street with a familiar gambit, “Hi, I’m Wes Wilberg. What’s your name?”
I’d shrink to a body size smaller than my 14-year old frame could accommodate. Dad’s outgoing personality was likely due to his variety of occupations, such as a newspaper delivery supervisor, real estate broker, and used car salesman saying, “Ain’t she a bute? I can see you driving this baby home tonight.”
As the only child of immigrant parents in Milwaukee during The Great Depression, Dad’s survival depended on friendship with everyone. However, the biggest reason for Dad’s pattern of initiating new relationships was his desire to make someone’s day a little bit better, including his own.
I wasn’t with Dad the day he met Kenny Rogers, but here’s the story Dad later told to me.
“Hi Buddy,” Dad said. “Nice van you’ve got there.”
“Hey yourself. I’m Kenny Rogers. I use the van while my band is on tour.”
“Kenny Rogers? Yeah, sure and I’m Bill Clinton,” Dad replied.
“No kidding. I am Kenny Rogers. We perform at Summerfest tonight. Okay, Bill what’s your real name? Here’s a couple of tickets if you fess up.”
“Wes Wilberg. Thanks Kenny. You’ve made my day.”
“Go ahead, make my day,” Clint Eastwood who played Harry Callahan, the ruthless San Francisco police department inspector in the 1983 crime thriller Sudden Impact, said as he pointed a .44 caliber Magnum revolver in the face of a robber. Fortunatly, it won’t take a robber to make my day today, but mangy, black, and white dog.
She scampers out of a cornfield and sprints across four lanes of traffic on US Highway 18 directly in front of my Ford. I swerve to avoid the mutt. She bolts up a grassy slope and drops to rest in front of a Citgo station. I take her lead and pull in for gas.
I stare at the dog as I pump fuel. She backs away from my gaze. Then I notice a biker dude dressed in dew rag, denim, chains, and leather boots. He rides a black Harley Davidson V-twin Low Rider. Chrome gleams in the late morning sun. His bike is complete with saddlebags, ape-hanger handlebars, and sissy bar to which he’s strapped a sleeping bag, and probably extra clothing, rain gear, guns, booze, and drugs. He must be headed for Sturgis to terrorize residents or to some other small western town to raise hell with his gang buddies.
I feel an urgency to meet this dude. The acorn doesn’t fall very far from the tree as they say. To walk across 50 feet of asphalt would be dangerous. I notice the biker toss something to the dog.
I drive over to meet the dude, lower my window and say, “ Hi Buddy. I saw you feed the pooch.”
He stands, six-foot plus and turns from the dog to me. “She looks hungry, but won’t eat the rest of my sandwich. She seems frightened and lost. I’m concerned about her.”
I watch the dog retreat over the top of the embankment. “Yeah, I almost hit her, just before I stopped for gas. Where you headed?”
“Wow, you’ve got a long ride.”
“Yup. Left Appleton this morning. If the weather holds, I’ll make Hastings by dark. I’ve planned a week or two with Mom. I teach so I have summers off. She’s 85 now and appreciates my visits. In my saddlebags I have cheese, bratwurst, and other Wisconsin delicacies she loves.”
“You’re a great son,” I say. “What’s your name?“
“Ron, Ron Peterson.”
“I’m Richard Wilberg. Great to meet you Ron, have a safe trip.”
In my rearview mirror I see doggie nibble Ron’s sandwich. He rubs her ears as she snuggles by his side.
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Creativity Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
Richard Wilberg is a creativity coach, musician, photographer, and former business leader who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.