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Road Warriors

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  • 1. Faced by a fresh awareness of the "finiteness" of life, Henry A. Zimmerman III decided that quality time with his son meant spending seven weeks together on a 9,OOO-mileodyssey around America in a 1982 VW Vanagon. s has been his custom for the past 30-some years, i Henry A. Zimmerman III greets his childhood chum with a prank. This time, he is standing in the baggage-claim area of Las Vegas-McCarran Interna- tional Airport and the caper is perpetrated by his cur- rent accomplice, Henry A. "Henny" Zimmerman N, 12, who holds up a sign that reads, "Welcome Johnson" as I approach. The intentional misspelling of my name, a tradition among my closest high-school friends, stems from my adamant corrections of any teacher who mis- pronounced it.
  • 2. _I Road Warriors Of course, Henry has the financial eases, making it tough to diagnose. And years of steroid-based medication, but his wherewithal to afford such an excursion. people with lupus are more susceptible to toothsome smile under a mop of (He estimates an average cost of $120 per infection because the necessary medicines disheveled black hair and the joy in his day.) He comes from an affluent family. lower their immune response. voice testify that he is having a great time. His father, Henry II, now retired, was a "Henry is remarkably unselfish in how "I've already told my family that I'm pioneering cardiologist at St. Vincent he handles his illness, so that it has mini- dropping out to live on the road:' he Charity Hospital, the first in the world to mal impact on his family:' Moskowitz remarks as we head toward the parking catheterize the left side of the heart. As observes. "He continues to do things like garage. an adult, Henry's earned a good buck as this trip, even at reasonable risk to him- There, the other key member of this a stockbroker. self, because he loves his family." summer expedition waits patiently for But his life has been interrupted by On June 7, Henry and Henny departed us in the driver's seat of the van: Buck- several dangerous detours. At 16, Henry their Pepper Pike home in a 1982Volks- wheat ("Bucky"). The name stems from contracted systemic lupus erthematosus, wagen Westphalia Vanagon (christened Henry's love of "The Little Rascals:' At a chronic autoimmune-system disorder home, Bucky, a chocolate Labrador in which the body attacks its own retriever, serves as a companion to tissue and organs, Spanky, the "Westy"), towing a 400-pound "When Henry was Alite A-frame camper trailer. Zimmermans' including the joints, kid- 16, 90 percent of When I arrive at the air- miniature bull terrier. neys, heart, lungs, brain, port on Monday, June 24, to "I couldn't be without a dog:' Henry blood or skin. In August 2000, the people who join them for a one-week leg says, adding in a falsetto voice, "I wish I he suffered a massive heart of their trip, they are roughly could teach you how to drive, Buckyl" got lupus were attack, attributable in part to a third of the way into their In fact, this trip was greatly inspired the cumulative effects of dead within five seven-week,9,301-mile by John Steinbeck's "Travels with Char- lupus, and survived a triple odyssey throughout the cen- lie:' which chronicles the author's jour- years," says bypass operation. tral and western United States. ney throughout the West in a customized Dr. Roland Moskowitz, a Henry's father, They look it. Henny, who camper truck with his pooch, Charlie. rheumatologist at University shaved his head before leav- While I'm sure Charlie fared well on his Hospitals who has taken care Dr. Henry ing, now sports short stubble. trek with his literary master, he had of Henry since he first became Zimmerman. He has been wearing the same nothing on Bucky. c; ro ill, explains that, though treat- T-shirt from University Pulling out of the airport, our first ~ able, lupus represents a sword "Now, Henny will School, where he is a seventh- destination is not Death Valley,as I had '" E E of Damocles for patients. They have something to grader, for several days. thought, but PetSmart. Bucky has not N might be well for a long time, Henry, also in days-old attire, been handling the lOS-degree heat of the e- c but then a severe flare-up can remember for the exhibits vestiges of the disease Nevada desert well. We are in search of '" :r: '0 affect their kidneys, heart or he has endured since we were any device that may keep him cool, even- c-, rest of his life." central nervous system. not-so-holy sophomores at tually stumbling upon the Canine ~ ~ Symptoms oflupus, which (At right, Christopher Gilmour Academy in Gates Cooler, a plastic sleeping mat that can be 0 u can range from mild to life- Mills back in the early '70s. He filled with cold water. 0 Johnston with his ;:; threatening, often mimic the looks heavy and his face is It's a simple detour. But it reveals that .c c. symptoms ofless serious dis- travel companions) dark red, a side effect from Bucky is not just their dog. And Henry w > ro ,:: 58 OCTOBER 2002
  • 3. _I Road Warriors and Henny are not just vacationers, not DVDs about Bryce Canyon, the Grand room drops significantly. just Americans claiming their rightful Canyon and Zion National Park; a Ziploc As we tuck into our $4.95 T-bones, piece of Manifest Destiny and hustling to bag containing unidentified black goop the conversation turns to what Henry the next museum, landmark or national that Henny discovered; various gifts for and Henny have enjoyed most about the park. No, this is life on the road. The the family such as key chains for Emily, a trip so far. They did take at least one of purpose of this trip is to explore the areas senior at Orange High School; hat pins Lydia's suggestions, stopping in Hydro, they visit in leisurely fashion, chat with for Lucy,a sophomore at Hathaway Okla., to visit the late service station/ the natives, take a hike, take a swim. Brown School; as well as some never-to- diner owner Lucille's ("Mother of the Whatever. be-worn T-shirts for the girls. Finding Mother Road") museum of fabled Route "They did not want to have a pre- anything with Lydia'sname on it has 66. They also loved the narrow canyon booked, preplanned, have-to-be-here-on- become a quest, since they've been unable hike at Zion National Park. And Bryce a-certain-day feeling to their trip;' Henry's to locate even a mug adorned with her Canyon, Utah, was memorable, except wife, Lydia, later explains, having been old-fashioned moniker. (A week later in for the guy who wanted to punch Henry rebuffed every time she suggested making San Francisco, they will purchase a heart- because he mistook the affable Bucky's reservations at a popular campsite. bounding toward his French poodle as an Other than deciding to make attack. First, Henry castigated him for a southern-to- swearing in front of a shaped necklace with a piece of ~:::ggggg"""'n~(orthern loop, Henry rice inside with Lydia'sname "I had a good time left the routing entirely to Henny. "He's written on it by an artist.) 12-year-old. Then, he with them, done a great job getting us around;' "Their idea of what we showed him the angry purple relates the proud papa. "I don't even would like and our idea don't because they're scar in the center of his chest question him:' coincide;' Lydia notes. "But that demarcates his heart it's always fun to get a package like two peas in a surgery. Pahrump, Nev. - June 24 from different places:' pod," says Henry's On the trip, Henry's health Rolling into Pahrump, we are greeted A few hours later, we pull has remained good. Strolling by a sign: "Welcome to the New Old into the parking lot at the sister, Jane, who out of the restaurant, he says West." We drive around for a couple Mountain View Casino/Bowl- that for the first time since the joined the pair in hours, looking for a good spot to stay the inglDining establishment. The surgery he has not experienced night, and end up in an RV park that is exterior exudes all the warmth July for the Sacra- the shortness of breath and little more than a parking lot. and architectural charm of a excessivefatigue that often mento-to-Spokane Henry has discovered that the desert warehouse with palm trees. keeps him from working. casinos rustle up gamblers with the We enter through the casino leg of the trip. Although he has to avoid pro- promise of a cheap dinner. Our mission, and stroll past elderly patrons longed exposure to the sun, then, becomes to find the cheapest rib- mechanically feeding the slot "But by about 8 at which can aggravate his illness, eye, T-bone or strip steak. We head to the machines, then past elderly night, I was ready the desert heat has actually post office for guidance and to send patrons mechanically feeding had an unexpected therapeutic home the spoils of the road. themselves at the bar. In fact, to kill them." effect on his arthritis. In today's package, Lydia, the expedi- when we enter the restaurant Knowing how everyone tion's spiritual guide and archivist, will behind Madge, our elderly worries about his health, Hen- find several rolls of film; guidebooks and hostess, the median age in the ry's initial instinct was to hide CLEVELAND 59
  • 4. J Road Warriors his travel plans and his purchase last daunting even in a car with a cooler full Stove Pipe Wells. (Back in the day, summer of a used Westy when he found of bottled water. Imagining the pioneers stovepipes were used to mark the loca- it in the Tradin' Times and haggled the trekking this vast stretch of desert that tion of wells in the nearby sand dunes.) owner down from $10,000 to $6,000. He hovers around 130 degrees, with surface The entire town seems to consist of a ser- replaced the engine and refurbished the temperatures closer to 200 degrees - vice station and general store across the brakes, then secreted it in the parking Henny wants to try frying an egg on the street, and the motel: a series of single- garage at his office until one day that fall, ground, but they don't have any left - story buildings with the office, the when he woke up Henny and took him gives us new admiration for their Nugget Gift Shop, a pool, a covered patio to see the van. They got it tuned up and courage. and an Old West-style restaurant/bar. washed and had a stereo system and Bucky, however, is not faring as well. Even the employees reside in housing satellite radio installed. As I drive through the lowest point in the behind the rambling complex. On either When the rest of Henry's family continental United States, at 280 feet side are more mountains, sand, rocks finally learned of his plans, they weren't below sea level, Henry and Henny pack and buckwheat (the plant kind) as far as as surprised as he expected. him with towels of the eye can see. His father, Dr. Zimmerman, thinks the Our favorite view, though, is the trip is tremendous. "When swimming pool, where we Henry was lounge for a ice, encourage him to drink "They did not and douse him with water. couple of hours to soak 16, 90 percent of the people want to have a Finally, we stop at a gas sta- away a day's worth of desert heat. By who got lupus were dead tion in Furnace Creek, where 9 p.m., still wearing the same shorts and within fiveyears;' he notes. prebooked, pre- Henry hoses off Bucky, then T-shirts, Henry and Henny dry off on "Now, Henny will have some- planned, have-to- takes him inside the air-con- deck chairs under a giant canopy, while thing to remember for the rest ditioned office. Within min- I remain up to my neck in water. The of his life." be-here-on-a- utes, he's discussing dogs with thermometer above their heads registers certain-day feeling one of the attendants, who is 124 degrees. Later, as we head to the Death Valley, Calif - originally from Chesterland. motel's saloon-themed pub to grab a June 25 to their trip," Although we drive through quick dinner, we agree that the inventor When asked about Death an empty campsite nearby, of air conditioning is an American hero Henry's wife, Valley,practically everyone in which should tell us some- who was robbed of a Nobel Prize. Las Vegas and Pahrump Lydia, explains. thing, we finally decide to stay responds with: "Why on earth at a motel, because a now- Mount Whitney, Calif - would you want to go there? frantic Bucky is attempting to June 26 Just drive outside of town for force his way under the dash- Before leaving Death Valley,we drive five minutes and you'll see the board by Henry's legs. back a mile or so to check out the sand same thing." "Oh, Bucky, I love you!" dunes, one of seven such groupings in the Instead, the stark and end- Henry chimes in a falsetto. valley. Inquisitive Henny collects a sample less beauty of Death Valley's Though I don't share the in a small plastic tube. While rifling landscape - sandy, dotted same depth of fondness, the around the van for a cap, he absentmind- with rocks and sparse, scrubby Buckster has landed us in an edly tries to hold the tube with his teeth, vegetation for miles - is air-conditioned motel in spilling some into his mouth. 60 OCTOBER 2002
  • 5. ~ Road Warriors Over the next several days, he good- Yet, they can also be perfectly obnox- at the base of the mountain. naturedly absorbs much grief for the ious in their father/son routines, often As night and the mosquitoes descend mishap. ("Hey, don't those rocks look going out of their way to annoy each on Mount Whitney, Henny and I write in delicious, sandboy?") Climbing back into other - or their guest. our journals or read by the fire before the van for our drive from the lowest to A favorite is Henry's repeated rendi- bed. Henry is off chatting with the camp- the highest point in California, Mount tion of a bad song's chorus - such as ground host. Henny is engrossed in Whitney (14,494 feet above sea level), "Lovin' You" by Minnie Ripperton, and "Black Hawk Down:' about the Ameri- Henry spouts a new motto we've picked Henny's immediate parroting of him can military debacle in Somalia, for up from a T-shirt at the Furnace Creek with a fabricated verse of his own. While school. He recounts in great detail what gift shop: "Hike or die, boys. Hike or die." I'm trying to navigate the steep hills lead- he's read so far. By early afternoon, despite alternating ing to Death Valley,Henry sits in front, We also discuss his eclectic taste in stretches of engine-overheating inclines toking a cigar (just like his father) and music, from the underground college and brake-smoking declines, we've made reading USA Today, while he and Henny bands sister Emily has turned him on to, it into California's High Sierra country. repeat every sophomoric skit blasting to rap artists Jay Z and Busta Rhymes, to Ascending another steep switchback, we from a Bob and some of his dad's favorites, Iimi Hendrix find a campsite just 20 yards from a and The Doors, which we've listened to surging, snow-fed extensively in the van. He has a Tom CD (such as "I Wanna Be Your Bra") or various tele- The trip was mountain stream. After phone pranks from a Jerky unpacking, we hike up the path along the Boys CD. greatly inspired girlfriend, Mackenzie, but stream. It's quickly apparent that neither "I had a good time with by "Travels with doesn't mind checking out the Henry or I can keep up with Henny and them, because they're like two attractive young ladies we Charlie," John Bucky. Somehow, out of breath, we make peas in a pod:' says Henry's encounter, though shyly and it to the gift shop halfway up the trail for sister, Jane, who joins them in Steinbeck's from a distance. He is amaz- some cold sodas. July for the Sacramento to account of his ingly open, answering any- Henry, hugging Henny, says, "We're Spokane, Wash., leg of the thing I ask. He confides that journey through coming back in a couple of years to climb trip. "But by about 8 at night, his sisters worry that their the West with his father's warped sense of humor to the peak." Instead of hugging him I was ready to kill them." back, Henny just grabs onto his father's Around dusk, Henny cooks dog, Charlie. will rub off on him during the shirt. He's taken to this practice over the up our dehydrated spaghetti The Zimmermans' long trip. (It has.) last few months, since he accidentally and lasagna. All day, the two "I wouldn't mind having to pooch, Bucky, broke his father's rib while hugging him have regaled me with tales of spend six months of the year from behind. Henry's bones have grown how delicious these prepack- discovered views camping here:' Henry says of prematurely brittle from osteoporosis, aged meals are. Instead, they such as the one the host's job when he returns. another side effect of three decades of taste like sawdust in an Elmer's He has also learned that Cali- overlooking Prednisone use. Still, this does not stop glue reduction sauce. Fortu- fornia Sen. Barbara Boxer the two from these modified exchanges nately, we also bought half a Tenaya Lake in owns one of the beautiful of affection that typically feature falsetto watermelon and some fresh Yosemite mountainside cabins adjacent exchanges of "I love you, son" and "I love grapes, peaches and nectarines to our campground. The host National Park. you, father." at a roadside stand in Lone Pine said he had seen a bear cub CLEVELAND 61
  • 6. J Road Warriors earlier, but it ran away when he startled it. purposely mispronounces the park name done, so I hope it will stay that way when All day, we've heard about recent bear as "Yo-sem-ight": priceless. I get home, so I have a better year in attacks in the park. Though we've duti- school." fully loaded our metal locker with food n our second day in Yosemite, The cleanup continues for several and scented products, Henny asks if he can sleep in the Alite with us so that we can wake him - you know, in case we O our expedition leader makes an executive decision: The Westy needs to be cleaned. Henny begins dig- hours. By the afternoon, however, Henry needs to take a nap. Overall, he's done pretty well, but the trip has begun to take spot a bear while he's asleep. I sack out in ging through several weeks of road-trip a toll. Henry's ankles are swelling from the van with Bucky. No bears. In the detritus, including travel brochures, long periods of driving, which he finally morning, we agree it's a PR hoax perpe- maps, empty cans and bottles, crumpled addresses by calling Dr. Moskowitz, who trated by the National Park Service. The copies of USA Today, clothes, various dog phones in a prescription for a diuretic to mosquitoes are far more menacing. paraphernalia, pamphlets from destina- alleviate the condition. tions along the way, inflatable pillows, "I've had days on this trip that I haven't Yosemite National Park, compasses, flashlights and other camping felt as well;' Henry laments. "But I'm also Calif - June 28 equipment. "My very stimulated from being outdoors and When we pull into the Tuolumne seeing the phenomenal sites. Of course, I Meadows campgrounds at want this trip to be special for Henny." Yosemite, the In Cleveland, dad always buys two of every- "I've noticed over thing;' Henny observes. ranger at the gate the past year I've Henny's versatility on the he's had days where he goes into exclaims, "Bitchin' bus, man!" trip has been impressive, the office for a few hours, goes home for Henry parlays this instant con- gotten really lazy," working as second-in-com- a nap, then returns for a few hours. To nection with Ranger Brady, a says Henny mand and medic in charge of mitigate this situation last year, he and fellow Westy connoisseur, to the first-aid kit, ensuring his three other brokers formed an innovative get us a secluded campsite Zimmerman father takes his twice-daily partnership that allows them to have next to a river. We dub it "The regimen of numerous phar- more flexible schedules. (shown here in Presidential Suite." To show his maceuticals. He's also done the On our third day in the park, the van appreciation, Henry later asks Mono Lake and majority of the lifting, carry- does not start. Henry, a seasoned mechanic Brady about his favorite beer. ing and hitching/unhitching of who has owned, operated or helped refur- Emerald Bay of The ranger replies, "Oh, no. I the trailer from the van. His bish a diverse collection of vehicles ranging really can't. We're not allowed Lake Tahoe, Calif.). slender, but strong 5-foot-3 from an Alfa Romeo to a U.S.Army Jeep, -porter." frame, shaped by years of has brought along an impressive array of We stop at the bustling but "But on this trip, junior hockey, has grown tools and diagnostic equipment. tiny park grocery store for I've been getting almost a foot over the past A starter cable has broken, which means dinner supplies. Six pack of year. He's hoping to make the Henny and I must push the van so Henry porter: $15. Ground meat: my work done, so varsity team when he moves to can jump-start it. We head for the shuttle- $7.50. Three bottles of iced U.S.'s Upper School. bus repair garage in YosemiteValley. I hope it will stay tea: $5.85. Bag of potato chips: "I've noticed over the past From the old photos on the office $4.50. The dismay of the that way when year I've gotten really lazy;' wall, it looks like the immense wood- earnest young junior ranger at Henny confides. "But on this shingled structure has been there for I get home." the checkout counter as Henry trip, I've been getting my work nearly a century. The shop is too back- 62 OCTOBER 2002
  • 7. _I Road Warriors logged to handle the repairs, but get to take my pills or whatever. the mechanic at the front desk gives Henry the tools he needs to "After the heart surgery, It's not like I dwell on it all the time:' complete the project. For the it created a finiteness;' And Henny is reaching an next two hours, Henry guides important time in his life, too. Henny through the repair. When Henry says. "In the next couple of years, I come back from taking Bucky Henny's going to get into sports for a walk through scenic Yosemite Vil- - "one of the most photographed sites and girls;' Henry says. "So this could be lage, Henny emerges from beneath the in the world;' we've been told, and we my last chance to get him. van, wearing a head-lamp, wrench in can see why. A chain of small beaches "I wanted to see these places, too;' he hand, covered in dirt and grease. In lines the sizable body of water's western adds. "You can see them in books or short, he is a happy young man. edge while resort homes are sprinkled films, but there's no comparison to along the opposite bluffs. standing there and looking at them." Lake Tahoe, Calif - July 1 I'm heading home the next day, so On the way to the airport in Reno, On our way north to Lake Tahoe the we're bopping along to the B-52s, with next day, we stop at a roadside ham- Henny perched on the armrest between burger shack for dinner. the two front seats. Before when we return to the campsite, I sit down at our "In the next While Henny and I dig into picnic table for one last good our meals at a picnic table in the garden discussion with Henry. He couple of years, going back to work and dining area next door, Henry stays with tells me the original idea for school, respectively, the two Bucky at the van. It doesn't take him long the trip actually came up sev- Henny's going still have many magnificent to find someone to talk to, however. eral years ago in a session with to get into sports treasures of America to "I enjoy watching Dad just go up to his psychologist, who he was behold: the Pacific Coast people and how open he is about every- seeing to deal with the trauma and girls," says his Highway, the redwood forest, thing;' Henny says, as we watch Henry from a devastating house fire father, Henry Mount St. Helen's, Glacier engaging a table of diners. in 1994. She asked him if and Yellowstone national From one gentleman who is a resi- camping and being outdoors (shown, at left, parks and Mount Rushmore dent of Lake Tahoe, Henry learns that was what he loved, why wasn't to name a few. receiving a "hug" from we should stop at Grover Hot Springs, he doing it? Henry was unable As if that weren't enough, then camp at Emerald Bay when we to respond. Henny at the Emerald they're already dreaming about reach the lake. After his heart attack, buying an RV and heading for Bay campsite). Both are excellent recommendations. Henry knew he needed to do Alaska next summer. At Emerald Bay,we find a great campsite something: "I thought to "S0 this could be But right now, the road is a quarter of a mile from the beach. myself, 'What am I going to do, open, the desert sun feels Henry goes off to buy groceries, while work until 60 or 65, then have my last chance to good on Henry's bones, and Henny and I tramp down to the water. two more years to enjoy life?' get him:' his son is laughing uproari- Henny, who says he wants to be an archi- "I've also gotten to the ouslyat one of his corny jokes. tect, builds a miniature arena in the sand. point where, after the heart If only he could teach Bucky After lazing in the hot sun, we briefly surgery, it created a finiteness;' how to drive, life would be venture into the chilly waters of the bay he says. "So sometimes I for- perfect. _ CLEVELAND 63