Idle minds are often dangerous. With Ed riding east on his solo leg of our hybrid journey, I’ve been consumed by a journalist’s obsession, summarizing our adventure with a headline or title. Like all good headlines, it should succinctly describe the adventure’s salient point and arrest one’s attention. Something like, “Lewis & Clark Lead the Corps of Discovery with Undaunted Courage.” Not that our ride is the same league; passing through some of the same northern and western territory they visited on our way west is as close as we’ll get, and I’ll see more on my solo ride back to Omro. Still, the excursion deserves something sexier than “the trip.”
Ed planted this obsession of mine when the trip was still in the fantasy stage, employing several synonyms for century, for the rounded-down sum of our respective ages. Seeking more precision, I asked Google if there was a word for 117 years (I’m 59 and Ed is a year younger). Nope. But it connected me with Wikipedia and the 13th emperor of Rome, Marcus Ulpius Trajanus, who died in the year 117.
On July 20 Ed e-mailed from Walla Walla that he was one day closer to Omro. I responded with Trajan’s thumbnail history: Before he died at 63, the Roman senate declared him optimus princeps, the best emperor, which helped earn him second on the list of the Rome’s Five Good Emperors. He added a lot of territory to the empire and built a lot of buildings (Trajan’s Market still stands, or so Wikipedia says).
Peace and prosperity marked his reign, except for the thousands of animals and 11,000 people killed, some of them chariot drivers but most of them slaves and Christians, during three months of uninterrupted gladiatorial games that attracted 5 million spectators. But he was also known for a number of social welfare policies like Alimenta, a welfare program that provided funds, food, and education to orphans (of the 11,000 dead?) and poor children.
Finally, Trajan corresponded with his magistrate, Pliny the Younger, on dealing fairly with the Christians of Pontius, telling him to pursue justice without using anonymous lists. I’m not sure what that means, but clearly was not a good time to be a Christian. Since then, 19 centuries of research have left his reputation unsullied (and today’s politicians, for whom legacy seems important, should take notes).
Living a life worthy of this reputation is something we should strive for, I concluded in my pedantic e-mail reply. Perhaps our headline should mention a Trajarian Odyssey?
Feeling guilty about my research, Ed responded with some of his own, Flickr Photo 117-2300. “Best I can come up with is “38 Balls.” Not as noble. Not as deep. And it’s flexible, depending on how you count the balls. Honestly, t-shirts emblazoned with 38 BALLS wouldn’t be a conversation starter?
As a journalist and writer, math is not my forte. Ed, an engineer, Marine A-4 driver, and graduate of the Navy Test Pilot School, cogitates on a higher plane. I got the 117, but the 2300 eluded me, so I asked him to explain. As usual, I’d complicated something simple and obvious: like 117, which is the sum of our ages, 2300 is the sum of our BMW 1150-cc engines.
This led to a discussion on how to divvy up the 38 balls, and we’ll leave it at that. On July 22, Ed continued this back and forth with: OK, I can see this isn’t going to end anytime soon. And why should it? Two allegedly creative minds toiling away at nonsense. High five.”
I haven’t heard from him since, but I’m hoping that he’ll be pounding on our front door sometime tomorrow, Sunday at the latest. After several days of airplane overdose at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, “The Trip” will head west in the middle of next week. Maybe we’ll come up with a better headline before it’s over.