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Ben Olson on the road: A mind meld with your traveling partner

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By BEN OLSON/for The Herald  —  When you spend 8000 miles with someone in an automobile, you have a lot of time to talk about things. When that someone is your son, it gives you the chance to open up about anything and everything, and at length.

When Erik came along, his sister and brother were already of school age and were getting on that big yellow bus every day. My wife was making more money than me at the time, so we worked around that reality. I would mow greens at the country club at daybreak and then come home to my role as house dad. When my wife got home in the afternoon, I would head to the supper club to make drinks for a dozen owly waitresses in the service window, getting done about 10 o’clock. The days were filled with projects, errands and a lot of just plain foolishness. I felt it was important that he had a chance to experience a variety of the wonderful things that life had to offer.

My wife and I felt it was a good plan, but when he started school, he was a square peg in a round hole. He had spent his first 5 years interacting with adults and had a tough time adapting to the structure of public school and the ways of children his age. After a few years, my wife and I concluded that we should home school him. She had left her job by then and took on the task of being the schoolmarm while I went out and built spec homes, one at a time. That didn’t work much better, but years later, when he enrolled in a charter school at age 15, in what would be his Sophomore year, he had all the necessary skills to do well. In his Junior and Senior years, he took most of his classes at a nearby college.

While we had difficulty teaching him some of the specific things that were part of his curriculum, we taught him how to figure things out, which turned out to be the most valuable skill of all. In many ways he has become a renaissance man, brimming with knowledge, common and arcane, and a thirst to dig deeper into any subject that interests him. When you’re cooped up in a car with someone who is so well read on so many subjects, there is no end to what can be discussed. If there are questions about facts and figures, who said that quote or whether Azerbaijan shares a border with Armenia (it does), he’ll find the answer on his phone, in short order.

Philosophy, politics, psychology, geography, history, work, play, war, peace, and music- a lot about music- were discussed as well as a hundred other subjects. There were disagreements- in the grand Olson tradition, you know when you’re right and when the discussion is over, nothing has happened to change your mind. I do believe, however, that we each shone a light on why we believe as we do, and that that belief should be respected. Much of the talk was about the future and big plans we had for it. Most won’t pan out- there’s only so much time or money that we have to work with. If we can get even a few of the crazy schemes we talked about to happen, life will be an exhilarating ride.

We’ve got 2000 more miles before we get back home, with stops to see my brother in Colorado and sister in Utah. There are many subjects of conversation that haven’t been discussed as of yet. I look forward to covering more ground on the last leg of this journey.

Ben Olson, musician and Oakridge Resident, with his standup bass Ben Olson photo

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