After Kim and the kids returned from a Spring Break trip this year to see family members in the Southeast, she said, “You know, you and Coleman should take a trip sometime, just the two of you.”  I had been quietly thinking the same thing for about two months.  I told Kim that I had been considering a father/son getaway to St. Louis in early May and had identified a weekend when the Cardinals would be playing at home on a Friday night.  “Book it,” she said!

An inaugural “man trip” was long overdue.  Don’t misunderstand.  I, along with Kim and Hannah, have been intimately involved in every aspect of Coleman’s life throughout the entirety of his 19-year journey.  And, in spite of all of the hospitalizations, diagnoses, specialists, therapies, and struggles, there have always been fun activities in which we have been engaged with Coleman as a family: Special Olympics, Dallas Mavericks games, therapeutic horseback riding, family vacations, and an annual pilgrimage to the beach for the last several years.  But, Coleman and I had never taken off on a long-haul, “just us guys” road trip as many fathers and sons do.  While Coleman’s developmental disabilities and autism would definitely have to be calculated into the equation, these realities wouldn’t be permitted to serve as barriers that had the power to hold us hostage at home. 

So, Coleman and I hit the road on the morning of Thursday, May 10.  It’s a 400-mile, 6-hour drive from Tulsa to St. Louis.  Coleman is about the best traveler you could ever hope to have riding shotgun with you.  He never complains about the temperature in the car, the music (or, in our case, the lack thereof), the glare of the sun, the traffic, or the road conditions.  He has never once asked, “How much longer until we get there?”  His only (but rather frequent) request was to sign “hamburger” and “soda” (meaning Dr. Pepper).  He brought that subject up about every 30 or 45 minutes just to make sure that I hadn’t forgotten his favorite meal of choice.  Coleman would periodically reach over and hold my hand for a few miles, but was perfectly content to just take in the scenery and enjoy the ride.  Since Coleman is non-verbal, a friend asked me after the trip if I would talk to Coleman as we traveled.  Good question!  I would occasionally tell him how much I loved him, what a good boy he was, and how proud I was of him; but, mostly we just rode along in refreshing silence.  Oh, right!  “Hamburger” and “soda.”  Got it!  Again! 

We arrived in St. Louis in the middle of the afternoon and got checked in to our hotel downtown, which was right across from the Gateway Arch and just a couple of blocks from Busch Stadium.  We took an evening stroll over to the Arch, and I allowed Coleman the freedom to just wander around the expansive, grassy grounds.  The design, engineering, and beauty of the Arch still fascinates and astounds me; if Coleman was impressed, it wasn’t noticeably evident. 

On Friday morning, we headed to the St. Louis Zoo.  We arrived to find what looked like a mile-long line of yellow school buses.  With the summer break approaching fast, it was apparently one of the last, best chances for end-of-the-school-year field trips.  We shared the zoo that morning with approximately 20,000 (only an estimate!) elementary-age children.  I had brought Coleman’s wheelchair just because he tends to fatigue rather quickly when a lot of walking is involved.  While his AFO braces help greatly with stability and support, covering 90 acres on foot would definitely be too much for him.  It was perfect “zoo weather,” and we took our time, seeing the exhibits at a leisurely pace and occasionally wheeling off into a safe harbor as periodic “storms” of giddy, screaming school kids passed by.  The only animal that really got Coleman’s attention was a giraffe that we encountered in a tall, indoor shelter.  The giraffe was only a few feet away from us, just on the other side of the enclosure’s steel bars.  Coleman caught sight of its feet, then began looking upward to find the rest of it, ultimately craning his neck to get a glimpse of its head about 18 feet in the air.  I would love to know what Coleman was thinking!  After a full three hours at the zoo, we headed to Imo’s for lunch, which lived up to its recommendation for fantastic local pizza.

We walked to Busch Stadium on Friday evening for the Cardinals vs. Braves game.  When I bought the tickets I had no idea that the Cardinals would be retiring Tony La Russa’s number (#10) in a pre-game ceremony.  Bonus!  It was a fitting honor for La Russa, who had managed the Cards for 16 years and led them to two World Series titles, in addition to many other notable achievements.  An incredible group of baseball greats (including Lou Brock, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, Mark McGwire, and Joe Torre) was seated with him in front of home plate, and La Russa’s speech was filled with humility and appreciation.  The home crowd also showed a lot of class that night in giving the Braves’ Chipper Jones a standing ovation when he was introduced.  Jones, playing in his farewell season, was similarly cheered before each at bat in recognition of his stellar career. 

While Coleman prefers sports like football and basketball in which the officials blow whistles, he is quite happy in the open-air setting of a baseball park.  He had been to a few Frisco RoughRiders and Tulsa Drillers games, but this was his first visit to a major league ballpark.  We had great seats in the middle tier overlooking third base.  Hotdogs, peanuts, and a couple of Dr. Peppers kept Coleman satisfied, and he was blessed to sit next to a sweet older lady who didn’t seem to mind at all when he occasionally reached out and held her hand.  The Cardinals were ultimately out-dueled by the Braves 9-7 in 12 innings.  We stayed until the last out, let the crowd clear for about 15 minutes, and then made a sleepy walk back to the hotel about midnight.  

Saturday morning gave us the opportunity to sleep in a little late and then meet my college roommate, Charlie Fike, for breakfast at the hotel.  Although Charlie and I have talked by phone periodically over the years, I had not seen him since the day of my wedding to Kim in March of 1988.  Charlie is the kind of friend with whom you can just pick up where you left off, even if it has been several years since your last conversation.  No one can make me laugh like Charlie Fike!  Coleman happily watched movies on his portable DVD player while Charlie and I spent a couple of hours catching up on life, family, and faith.

After that, it was check-out time at the hotel and then an enjoyable drive back to Tulsa. 

Thanks, Coleman!  I couldn’t be prouder of you or more grateful to have shared this “man trip.”  I hope and pray that there will be many more to come.   

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