The PingWi-Fi entourage just touched down in Ontario, Calif., but before we start another West Coast Wi-Fi tour, there is some unfinished business … family business … “old home week” from a recent pilgrimage to the Texas Panhandle.
Each year I return to Vega, Texas for the Oldham County Roundup — world’s best barbecue, street dances, rodeo, softball and other small-town shenanigans … clean fun, pretty much.
In addition to the decades-old traditions, I have added a twist of my own. Each year I camp out on the family farm, or PingWind Farm as I call it. Carrying on the wind joke about the dry and dusty plains, the annual excursion is called The Blowing Man Festival, an obvious rip off of the famous Burning Man in the Nevada desert.
Furthermore, if you have been to that part of Texas lately, you will notice the entire horizon has been changed because of the wind. Now there are huge electricity-generating wind turbines everywhere, forever altering the complexion and the economics of little Texas towns.
Blowing Man has far fewer hippies than Burning Man. Perhaps that is the beauty. Blowing Man is an escape from the city. No crowds. No pollution. No noise — except for an occasional coyote yelping “Faded Love.”
Blowing Man is blissful solitude, open skies and a shooting star or two … and time to reminisce about days gone by … days on the farm … hometown memories … good things. Oh yes we mix in some target practice, cycling, and alternative music … but it is a pretty simple time. (I do tweet, blog and e-mail from Blowing Man using the 4G data connectivity of my Apple iPad, right out in the middle of a field of wheat stubble. Ha! I said it was a simple time … not primitive.)
What could be more apropos? As I drove down the service road of I-40 West of Vega on the way to my Blowing Man campsite — the road that was once Old Route 66 — a local radio station played the classic rock anthem “Dust In The Wind.” Nothing could have been more perfect because of all the dusty whirlwinds swirling around my tent later in the day … or the fact that this very song long ago was sung by my math teacher, performed acoustically for my graduating senior class at the senior breakfast, the last week at old Vega High School. Now that is a great soundtrack story.
That song was made famous by a band called Kansas. It had more significance for me, back in the day, because it symbolized a high school crush, yes, on a young woman from Kansas. Pretty sappy … but a great memory.
All week at Roundup, leading up to Blowing Man, there were lots of great memories of old friends, and reacquaintance after many years. Speaking of great rock and roll moments, I ran into two sisters at the Roundup barbecue that were such great friends so many years ago. In fact, I think they both attended one of my very first rock concerts with my best buddy and me back in the day … ha … The Doobie Brothers.
It is important to point out that I saw the two sisters on the same day, but at different times. That is significant because they both said pretty much the same thing to me.
They both commented on the fact that after all these years, I had recently “let myself go” as we might say in The Texas Panhandle.
After decades of wanting long hair … as middle-aged crazy as it must seem … yes, Ping has said the heck with fashion. I am going for it. Always wanted long hair … and now I am doing it, for better or worse.
Ha … what a rebel come lately.
To most people this will seem so trivial. To me it is a big deal. I was born at a time when the world was being turned upside down with new ideas. In small-town Texas, things were the same as they had always been … yet … the TV was reporting to us about the rest of the world. Those of us who were paying attention … staying glued to the telly were getting all kinds of mind-expanding information from the outside world … albeit mixed messages conflicting with our homegrown mores.
These television messages reached a peak when I was almost four years old, the day four British musicians played before a huge live TV audience on The Ed Sullivan show. It changed the country, and undoubtedly, it influenced this one very young farm boy … forever. Oh, I watched my share of Roy Rogers westerns and loved every minute … but The Beatles got to my psyche first. It is funny looking back … at the time I didn’t understand influence … but I knew something big was happening, and I wanted to be a part of it. As The Beatles performed in front of thousands of screaming, shrieking, crying teenage girls on the television, I played along … with a beat up badminton racket for my guitar, and an old dark washcloth over my head for my very own fashionable Beatles hairdo. Ha … cut me slack … I wasn’t even four …
All that is to say … early on … I liked and wanted long hair … and couldn’t have it. Number one, my cowboy/farmer father didn’t like it and number two … who wants to get their long hair caught in a tractor motor or some other high-torque hazard in rural Texas.
Next … it is important to note that my school had a very strict dress code, even for those days. So … strike two against my having the long locks I always wanted … It is funny. Several years in a row, the outgoing seniors at our school would do their best trying to get the dress code changed to reflect the popular styles of the day …. each year, after sports had ended, and the seniors would no longer be under the thumb of the dictatorial coaches who wielded lots of power over our lives. Each year, the senior students would be shot down.
Ha! When I was a senior a newspaper reporter from The Amarillo Globe News interviewed some of us who were vocal, trying to change the dress code. Silly me. I gave the reporter my name while several friends were quoted anonymously. Interesting. The next day the head coach cornered me in the hall. He said he didn’t agree with what I said, but that he respected me for at least putting my name beside my comments. Oh, by the way, that reporter later was my first boss in my first PR job at the regional electrical utility company. And that newspaper – The Amarillo Globe News — later on, was my first professional journalism gig.
I digress …
I alluded to The Beatles, thousands and thousands of miles away, being such strong influencers on my young mind. But there was also a hometown type who piqued my interest in long hair. In several of my older brothers’ school yearbooks there are great old photos of a guy named Jerry. I think he did most of the things the other kids did … played sports … worked at summer jobs … chased girls ….listened to rock ‘n’ roll … whatever … but he was most known for trying to ‘break out of the mold” … daring to be different … our very own rebel … In several of the yearbooks, Jerry was pictured with other students trying to cut off his somewhat Beatle-like hair. If you know me, you know I had a great respect for this guy who dared to think outside the box a bit.
Note: years after Jerry left the school and got to do whatever he wanted with his hair, my dad and I ran into Jerry one day. We pulled him over on the street in front of our house, after we had left the farm and moved to town. My dad motioned for Jerry to stop. Jerry whipped his ice cream truck to the side of the road, flung the door open, and as my dad opened his window in the pickup truck, Jerry started hurling Eskimo Pies at us … handfuls of them … just a funny, crazy likable guy … But he didn’t have long hair. Perhaps he grew out of that phase … or maybe the ice cream company had a dress code.
I digress …
For this to be such a “nothing-burger” of a story, it has been one of the hardest ones ever for me to write. I have thought about it a million times.
You see. I have been toiling over this decision pretty much my entire life. I have decided to come out. To just say it. (No, not that …) not even close. I have been a closet longhair. I really, really like long hair and gosh darned it … it is time to do something about it.
So, as i mentioned, dating back to black and white TV, this has been weighing on me for a while. The issue rears its head, now.
Let’s back up a second and talk about Vega girls … remember the two sisters? Both have known me for decades. Both have been great friends … and I think both understood as soon as they saw me with the skimpy, wannabe little ponytail in line for barbecue that I was finally doing something I had always wanted to do.
They both were complimentary in their own way. One told me she liked it and that it looked good. The other said she didn’t care if it was just a “middle-aged crazy thing” that she like it too. Funny way to put it … we laughed.
I mean, everyone knew I always wanted to have long hair. It was a part of me — although neglected or stifled. Ha … get this … going back to high school days again. Among our high school traditions that surround the end of school, graduation and The Senior Prom is a funny little document called the Senior Prophecy. It is a funny set of predictions of what the class will be doing at a distant point in the future. The prophecy is read aloud at the prom, as I recall.
Yes … wordy thang that I am … I composed much of the soothsaying about my fellow grads for our prophecy. But someone else pitched in to write the future blurb about The Ping. And surprise, surprise, they predicted that I would travel all over the country rambling on and on about wireless Internet … the Internet that hadn’t even been invented yet … Ha … just kidding … (I bet you were all like, “Dang, they good!”)
No seriously … if you had known me back then, you might have expected the prophecy to say something about writing … or more likely about coaching basketball … or becoming a roadie for a rock group … or maybe a politician … But no! Here is the prophecy penned for me and I quote: “Kent Pingel has just won his third consecutive Smooth & Silky Long Hair Award.” Yep. That was it. They nailed it.
I digress … enough of the future … back to the past …
The other girl … the one from Kansas also had to deal with my longing for more hair. In our teens, my buddies and I — all farmboys — would time our haircuts at the end of the school year to just barely fit the dress code requirements on the last day of school, meaning our hair was as long as possible as summer vacation began. I guess all of our dads had mellowed by this time, so we all grew our hair for three months without a cut, to attain maximum length in the summer and feel like we were not throwbacks to the 1950s. Pretty calculated, huh? Well … this young lady from Kansas who came to visit ever summer didn’t know guys who had to work around a dress code. Her Kansas suitors had longer, styled hair. Ha … in Vega, we were doing all we could in a short amount of time … and looked really shaggy during the summer. So … Ms. Kansas just didn’t understand this complex issue.
So … in my adult life, before now, I could have grown my hair … But it seemed there was always some conflict. Job interviews. The Punk Rock movement … Parenthood. Ha … I started a ponytail one other time, early in my career, but as the editor of his book, I had a meeting scheduled at the home of baseball legend Nolan Ryan. So yes, I voluntarily cut my ponytail off for Nolan Ryan … and then never grew it back … until now.
The longing continued. I knew someday the right reason would come to me. I didn’t know when or why … but I knew some day I would do what I always wanted … and I would look how I want to look … after all these years.
Here’s what happened.
You know the phrase about wisdom coming from “the mouths of babes.” It was sort of like that. Years ago, I went home, probably for Roundup, and either I read in The Vega Enterprise … or maybe I heard it from someone that a young Vega girl was growing her hair as long as she could … but she was doing it for a purpose. If memory serves correctly, I think her name is Shandi … and although I don’t know her, I do know some of her family … which I believe in fact includes the two Vega girls who commented on my hair. Yes small world … small town.
Shandi, as the story goes, was growing her hair long in order to cut it off and donate it to a charity — Locks of Love — which provides wigs or hair pieces for children who lose their own hair from medical treatments as they battle cancer.
So … there you have it. I always wanted long hair, but just never had the right time or the right reason … or a purpose.
Now I do … and off I go.
Know what I saying?