Shift West

All American Randy

7 months ago in Durango, Colorado

by Barron

"There are guns in this house. I know where they are. You don't," Randy rasps over his smoke-worn voice behind gleaming glasses. "All I ask is you don't walk away from my house with anything you didn't bring here. You treat me fairly and I'll do the same to you." We nod speaking over each other, "Yes sir," "No doubt," "Absolutely." Shawn stands by his dad, petting Striker, the military trained German Shepherd (seriously, sixth generation German bred) that could take down a grown man in a heartbeat with one command. Striker understands English and German but won't stop an attack unless spoken to in Dutch. "He doesn't see you as a threat," Randy consoles us with a grin. Jake and I both love big dogs. We're both a little apprehensive. Striker is a trained killer and Randy has the scars all over his arms to prove it. "Trained him myself from birth," he puffs proudly. Watching the two of them together, you can understand where dogs get labeled mans' best friend.

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An hour after our initially slow and awkward introduction, all tension was diffused. We'd passed the sketch test. Randy was sitting indian style on the floor in the living room, I was cuddled up with his other dog, Willow, on the couch, and Jacob was playing Randy's relic Martin quietly while we spoke.

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Many would consider Randy a classic American patriot. He served as a flight surgeon at Bosnia, Desert Storm, and Afghanistan - a decorated soldier. Our conversation oscillated from the horrors of war to large concepts of human community. Randy told us stories that made his eyes glaze over while he spoke, recalling terrors of Bosnia. Times he was just a second too late.. "I just don't know how one human being can do that to another - much less a little boy." Jacob and I hardly know what to say. "I don't have a problem killing somebody if he's done something wrong," he spoke solemnly, "after what he did to that boy, I didn't have a problem taking him out."

Five minutes later - "And that there is the clown fish that I added," Randy exclaimed, peering over his phone as he showed us his newest airbrush project at the scuba dive shop in downtown Durango. "Yup, next I'm going to add a sea turtle, shark, and a scuba diver in the back. I'm also going to darken up the bottom so it looks like a deep abyss." From the weighty conversation we were just having, now we're talking about painting sea critters. And no joke, his work was really impressive. Randy peers over his glasses and you can see a twinkle in his eye. People are so complex.

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Jacob and I share Shawn's bed and crack the windows, letting in the cool mountain air. We sleep better than any night so far on the trip. In the morning, we drink coffee and Randy shows us his videos and photography, some of which are shot from high above his neighborhood with a drone he has. "I've got to go next door and pull the sink out of my neighbors house," he warns us, letting us know we'll need to leave with him. "Are you a plumber," I inquire. Randy shrugs, "Nah, they just need some help." Again, through his tough skin, scratchy voice, and intimidating qualities, Randy's kindness shines through. Heck, he did open his home, entertain our questions, and share his hobbies with us. Randy is a good guy.

Standing in the garage saying goodbye, Randy recounts the time he should have died when he and some friends had journeyed down to New Orleans to help with reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina. Broken infrastructure and unmarked roads led to Randy flying off his limited edition Harley RoadKing, landing on his head so hard the visor of his helmet rammed his chest, causing internal bleeding. No cell reception. No one around. No street lights. A broken motorcycle and neck fractured in hundred of places.

"As soon as I stopping rolling, I felt somebody there. I looked up and saw a woman holding me, cradling my neck, asking if I was okay. I remember telling her with a thread of humor, 'let me stopping tumbling and I'll let you know.'" Randy checked wiggled for damage - toes, ankles, all the way up to his neck. All seemed to be working. "I rolled out of her lap and stood up. When I turned around, no one else was there." Randy left it at that, leaving the mystery of what happened that night hanging in the thick morning air of his garage. Somehow, Randy managed to push his broken bike out of the ditch and ride it to where his friends were camping so that they could call 911.

"You boys be careful riding, you hear me?" Again, safety is being drilled into our minds. Randy reminded us of the fragility of life and the omnipresence of mystery in this world.

"Here," Randy says as he hands me a $20 bill. "Lunch is on me."