It had been raining for hours. Biblical stuff. Coming down in sheets. The rest stop on Interstate 70 was packed. The people in cars were dry but I had to scurry from one side of the overhang to the other each time the wind shifted.
My plan had been to camp under the stars every night but I ended up staying in motels more often than not because of the weather and it was putting a strain on my wallet. By the time I arrived at the rest stop on I-70 just outside of Topeka, Kansas I had two hundred dollars left. This was, if you can remember that far back, before ATMs and nobody was going to cash an-out-of-state-check for a guy who looked like a drowned rat driving a motorcycle loaded with enough gear to sustain the Joad family.
A pale blue Volvo with Connecticut plates pulled into the rest stop behind me. A decal in the rear window pledged fidelity to the University of Denver. Two guys stumbled out of the car and a cloud of marijuana smoke drifted out with them. They walked to the edge of the overhang and “Wowed” at the deluge. The wind shifted and they scampered back in my direction.
I was sitting on my bike drinking a Coca Cola and eating a pack of Nabs—a mainstay of every southern boy’s diet. (Did I mention I brought a cooler with me? I did.) After a little negotiation I traded two cokes and two packs of Nabs for a joint.
The monsoon continued and soon the three of us were “Oohing” and “Ahhing” at the storm. I told them about starting at UNC in September and they told me about DU. I told them about wanting to be an actor; they told me about the plays they had seen at DU; how unbelievably great they were. At the time I thought the weed was fueling their enthusiasm.
However, Denver was on my STOP list, my brother lived there, so I thought I’d check out DU while I was there and see what they were so jazzed about.
Eventually the rain stopped, the guys got back in their Volvo and headed east and I continued west. In Topeka I shipped half of my stuff to my brother in Denver. Unburdened, I made good time and soon I was in Colorado. (Factoid – most people think Kansas is flat. It is but going east to west it’s also uphill–all the way. I went from near zero elevation to over 6,000 feet by the time I got to Colorado Springs.)
I was enthralled the moment I crossed the state line into Colorado. It was June, the weather was ideal, the rain had stopped, and the mountains (although in the distance) were breathtaking. The one thing I didn’t pack was a camera (DUH) but several of the vistas I saw are forever etched into my memory.
I hooked up with my brother in Denver and a couple days later I made my way over to the DU campus. In the main theatre building I ran into Abe Grossman, the department chair. I gave him my spiel and he invited me to see a play the students were doing that night. I went, I was impressed (no, I was blown away) and the next day I drove back to campus to thank him.
We were in his office talking and after a few minutes he said, “John, I don’t know what UNC is doing next year but we’re mounting several main stage shows” (and then came the words every actor longs to hear) “with roles you’d be perfect for.” He said some other things but all I heard was: roles you’d be perfect for. Roles you’d be perfect for. Roles you’d be perfect for.
The next day I (to be continued)…