Over the last eight years, I have always looked for ways to connect with the boys. It's a delicate dance that I have to do, respecting their limits while pushing them to give new and different things a try. It's made even harder by my position in their lives as a Stepparent. Most of the things I love are rejected out of hand, because to embrace those things would be to wholly embrace me, which (in their minds) would be to somehow betray their father. I have shared my interests and passions with them, but beyond poker, and Ryan's limited affection for 80s alternative music, we have little in common at this point in their lives. It makes me sad from time to time, but it's something I have to accept; they're just not interested in geeky things like comics and RPGs. I'm sure that part of it is their age, and the differences in our generations. There are times when we make wonderful connections, but I still lay awake some nights and wonder if I'll ever be able to fully close the gap that currently exists between us.
I'm not a car nut, by any means. I think American muscle cars from about 1960-1974 are pretty damn cool, but I could care less about today's expensive sportscars . . . Nolan, on the other hand, positively loves them, and while we were at the car show, he made an effort to share that love with me, the same way I've attempted to share my love of science fiction with him. On the surface, this is just a car show . . . but it's much, much more to me . . .
Over the next hour or so, we slowly moved from one booth to the next across the West Hall. I watched Nolan as he sat in several cars that he likes to drive in various Xbox games. I could see the far away look in his eyes while he was in the Audi TT, gripping the wheel tightly as he pulled through turns across Trafalgar Square in Project Gotham Racing, and I smiled. He finished his race (in first place, no doubt) and got out of the car.
"Nice driving," I said. "Ready for the South Hall?"
"You know it," he said, and took my hand.
We left the hall, and headed down a long corridor. Our walk was uneventful, until we neared a small chamber called the Concourse Hall. Nolan looked in as we passed, and stopped abruptly.
"Oh my god, Wil! We have to go in there! I just unlocked a Lotus in PGR2, and they're totallygoing to have the real one here!" He said, "Can we? I've never seen one in real life."
"Of course!" I said, "That's why we're here."
We walked into a room that was packed (well above its capacity) with hundreds of exotic sportscar enthusiasts. In addition to the Lotuses, this hall contained the Bentleys, the Ferraris, the Lamborghinis, and the Saleens.
"Man, this room is really full. Should we come back later?" Nolan said.
I looked around the room. It was hot, and a faint reek of greasy hair and sweat hung in the air, like an elementary school hallway after lunch recess. Several people pushed their way past me, one of them knocking me off balance. Nolan squeezed my hand and steadied me.
"I think the Lotus booth is just to the right," I said, "I think we can at least see that, and if it's too crowded, we can come back later on."
"Are you sure?"
In the far corner of the room, a group of men cheered, and I saw several arms reach into the air.
"Yeah. I think there's just some sort of giveaway happening over there."
"Maybe it's a free whack at the GTO," Nolan offered.
"Oh! Where can I sign up?" I said.
We giggled and slowly wove our way through the teeming masses yearning to win prizes, until we were pressed right up against the rail in front of the Lotus booth.
We hadn't even stopped moving when Nolan went off on this car. He was like an audio version of Car and Driver.
"Can I take pictures?" He asked.
I handed him the camera and told him to go nuts.
A few minutes and about a thousand pictures later, we squeezed out of the suffocating room.
While we walked past a booth selling Auto Show T-Shirts, Nolan said, "Wil, I can get so many Kudos with that car in PGR 2 --" He stopped, and turned to face me.
"Is this boring for you?"
It was a very unexpected question, and caught me completely off guard.
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I keep stopping you to look at cars."
"Nolan, it's a car show. What else are we going to do?"
"Okay, I'm just checking." He looked away, then back to me. "Are you sure you're not bored?"
"Nolan, I'm really happy to just be hanging out together, and I think it's totally cool that you're into these cars. I'm having a fantastic time."
"Okay," he said.
We walked another fifteen feet or so before he stopped again.
"Thanks for bringing me here, Wil." He hugged me, right there by the Los Angeles Times booth.
I hugged him back, tightly, in spite of myself. "You're welcome, Nolan. Thank you for telling me that." I smiled. I've spent most of the last eight years teaching both kids to be compassionate and appreciative. I love it when I see a little glimpse of my parenting in action.
"I'm really glad we did this today," he said.
(Next time: The real return of the muscle car!)