Column: Savoring sweet tastes on the road

If you’re living well, you can forget your troubles for a while, but it’s hard to forget that we live in a flawed, imperfect world.

For most of the past five summers I’ve been making a pilgrimage somewhere within the continental 48 states to see a baseball game or two. It started five years ago when my friend Dave and I visited our college friend Jason, who we hadn’t seen much in recent years, in Boston. Our trip included an evening at Fenway Park, the old, quirky, beloved home of the city’s Red Sox. The memories are a bit fuzzy. I don’t even recall who won that night, but moments before, during and after the game are etched in my brain, never to be forgotten, God willing.

My summer trips since 2012 have been with Dave, and have included a major league baseball game. Our trips took us to games in Arlington and Houston, Texas, in 2013, Pittsburgh in 2014, and Tampa and Miami, Florida, last year. We have flown, driven and taken Amtrak to our destinations, and this year we were back in the car making a disjointed loop from Milwaukee to St. Louis, Atlanta and Cincinnati. To our surprise, we received text messages about a week before departure, Jason was joining us for two legs of the trip. We picked him up in Chicago, on our way to St. Louis, and he departed the day after we visited the new home of the Atlanta Braves.

Jason couldn’t afford to stay on the road for a week, but Dave and I were happy he was able to join us at all. The three of us rarely wind up in the same place at the same time.

Dave has been to all 30 active major league ballparks. With the trifecta we hit on this year’s road trip, I have been to 18. I don’t follow baseball like I use to, I don’t have the same passion for the professional game as I did during my teens and 20s, but being a neutral observer at a major league ballpark on a perfect Sunday afternoon in St. Louis is a rare privilege I wish I could count on every summer.

It’s nice to forget about many of the unfinished tasks on my to-do list back home, and to leave behind the tediousness of formatting news briefs for the newspaper, at least for one week of the summer. But for all the good time and hilarious conversations I’ll remember, it’s hard to forget that the world we live in is flawed.

It will come as no surprise that during my travels to and from ballparks in major cities I encountered numerous people looking for a handout. I don’t always assume the person standing at the corner is homeless, as you don’t need to be homeless to need help.

I’m not a fan of handing out cash to random people on the street, not when there are service organizations that ensure donations are used responsibly. But seeing a man or woman eschew humility and stand on a corner, asking for help, reminds me how fortunate I am in a world where we’re surrounded by those who are less fortunate. It doesn’t ruin my evening, it’s simply a reminder.

My road trip concluded with a long commute on Aug. 5. We left Cincinnati that morning and headed for Milwaukee, where I’d finish the trek back to Minnesota solo. I wasn’t driving during the road trip, so I was able to keep tabs on the happenings in the world around me. My Facebook news feed reminded me several times that day that I was returning to an imperfect world, as I was reading updates and conversations about an explosion outside the Dar Al Farooq Youth and Family Center. It lingered in my mind as we passed countless cornfields in Indiana and joined the masses snaking through Chicago traffic that day.

I was thankful our travels had not been met with an unexpected catastrophe, and therefore never had to question my safety. I was fortunate to have spent a week on the road, and appreciative of the ability to enjoy it. Not everyone is able to do so, and the world reminded me of it, both during and after the trip.

And those reminders made the Steak ‘n Shake orange freeze shakes I enjoyed twice that week taste all that much sweeter. My waistline is thankful we don’t have Steak ‘n Shake franchises in Minnesota.


Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.