Statistics show that most of you read this site between 9am and 2pm Monday through Friday. That means, as you read this, I am covering one of the oddest stories of my short career.
A little background first:
Jason was a freshman at a local university. He drove up to a local state park known for its fantastic hiking and spectacular views. He stopped for a Whopper on the way. He pulled through the guard shack, signed his name on the register, and parked his car.
Nobody--we know of--has seen him since.
That was a few years ago.
We know he didn't fill out a hiking form (the kind that says "If I don't come back down the mountain, come and find me"). We know he was a straight-laced Air Force ROTC member. We know his mom and dad don't get along very well. And we know very little of that matters very much because he's been gone for a long time and nobody really expects him to come back. Only a slightly higher percentage ever expects to find what is left of him.
As you read this, I am at that state park with my buddy/photographer Gulfman. I have a backpack full of granola bars, clothes made for layering, water, and other necessities I won't actually need unless the story drags me deep into the bush or high on the mountain and won't let me come down. I actually brought walkie talkies in case we all get split up.
Gulfman and I will spend the rest of this day following a small group of people around. This is not the group that years ago searched in vain for weeks through the underbrush, middlebrush, and overbrush for a young man they never found. Those volunteers have long ago made that experience something to think about in dark moments.
As you read this, Gulfman and I are following Jason's mother. She is following two people from a foundation for missing children. Those people are following a West Coast psychic who has been having dreams about Jason. I wish I could tell you where she is leading us, but I don't know. All I know is that I have clipped a microphone to whatever warm California clothes she brought with her and I am following her whereever the spirits lead her.
My friends have already run through all the jokes ("You think she already knows what questions you're going to ask her?", etc.), so don't bother. I'll admit, though I was offered this assignment and almost hedged on it, I am a little intrigued. There is no part of me that believes that what I am doing right now will do anything for Jason's mother other than get her son's name back in the news. There is no part of me that actually believes the West Coast psychic is doing any more than following the changing wind patterns at the base of the mountain for three days.
But that twisted part of my brain--that part that few people ever see and even fewer actually want to--is curious. It is that part of my brain that makes me have half-concious daydreams in the shower of standing over a pile of bones and having the West Coast Psychic look at me and say, "See? I told you so."
Of course, come Friday night (that's tonight to you, dear readers), I will roll back into the Villa of Green and roll my eyes as my huckster friends ask me what it was like. I''ll answer, "You've been to California. Whatta you think?" And then I will find a watering hole (hopefully the CP) and think about something else for a few hours.
And while I'm thinking about it...every man should have a bar where he feels comfortable. I don't care if it is TGIFridays (although I might laugh at you a little if that's your choice). Every man should have a dark corner to crawl into, where the music is almost always the same, the beer is always as cold, and the women look at you sideways when you head to the john.
IThat's where you'll find me tonight. At least, that's what the woman from the West Coast is telling me right now.