In the distance, as I sit on this old porch, I can hear the hum of a train whistle, a million miles away. It is barely audible, yet there is something so soothing about that sound. Somehow it brings me back to a better time, a time when I was a kid, and we would actually take locomotives to Chicago.
In fact, trains became a part of my life in many ways. We always had a train set around the Christmas tree (still do), and my best friend was a “railfan” who had his entire basement filled with a giant train town, with multiple tracks. We would put our puffy striped train hats on and play with his trains for hours. Once we had our driver’s licenses, we would drive to intersections at certain times to watch trains pass, and we would walk tracks just to be closer to the train world.
One day, my friend Charlie called and said, “Let’s go, we’re going up to the train in Angola,” which was about an hour north of us. He had been part of a team that found an old train in Tennessee and managed to ship it to Indiana, restore it, and give rides. People would come from all over to ride the Little River Railroad. On this particular day, we had a mission. Being a self-taught musician, Charlie had determined that at a certain speed, each crosstie holding the track equaled a beat. So he calculated when the train would reach a certain speed, and at what spot. We then went to that spot and placed gun caps on the rails for about half a mile.
With a recorder down near the rails, we boarded the train, and when it reached that spot, the caps played a special beat loudly. The recordings were later used as a soundtrack on a song he had written. Charlie was a genius.
Another day we learned that the famous Norfolk and Western 611 had been restored and was coming through our area, so we greeted it among hundreds of other railfans, and then rode it, windows down and with soot in our eyes.
A Name with Meaning
When I founded my company, I needed a name. I loved trains, loved design, and at the time was an art deco collector. The Streamliner, a sleek, shiny silver art deco train, had been designed by the great designer Raymond Loewy. So I named the company Streamline, because it represented what I wanted the company to be … streamlined and efficient, yet focused on beautiful design. Ever since then I’ve tried to live by those standards, to do things efficiently and to find ways to stand out with beautiful design in my magazines and products.
Losing Someone Important
Charlie was my best friend. We hung out for countless hours, never running out of things to talk about. We both loved radio (he actually got me my first radio job and trained me). We loved music and audio and well-done advertising. Of course, we loved trains. Though I was never the rabid nerd he was, I liked them because I liked being with him.
Sadly, Charlie died young, and I’ve had to spend the last couple of decades without him. To this day, I find myself thinking of Charlie when I see something he would have loved.
When I think about my friendship, which began when we were about 15 or 16, I realize that what I loved about him was that he was not obsessed with the things others obsessed about. He did not care about money, ever. He was an incredible writer and musician, writing hundreds of songs, yet he never cared about being famous. He would entertain with friends at various local venues, but he never took a shot at recognition outside of our small town. My buddy John and I were talking about him recently and realized he would have been internationally famous if he had just taken his shot. But that was not important to him, which is why we all loved him. He was driven by his art and never allowed other standards to influence who he became.
Living His Own Terms
This week, I lost another good friend, Ralph, who was my dad’s age. Ralph was very similar to Charlie, walking to his own beat, loving his art. The big difference is that Ralph took his shot and became a wealthy man. And though he ended up with the big mansions, he was never one to lord it over people about his wealth. To him, it was simply a tool to do more. Still, he did what he wanted, on his own terms, and was not trying to be what others wanted him to be.
I look at these two mentors and realize they helped shape who I am. Though they both put their families first, they both pursued what they loved with passion. They never cared what others thought. They did not follow the path we all think we’re supposed to follow.
It’s so easy to lose sight of who we really are because the world is always telling us what we should be. We’re all too often seduced by shiny objects.
What if you and I were truly ourselves at all times?
How would we change the way we live?
In the early days, I spent a lot of time trying to turn my friend Charlie into what I wanted for him. I could see his talent, so I wanted him to take a shot, because that’s what I would have done. Yet he was strong, he resisted, because it was not what was important to him.
The Richest Man I Knew
As our friendship grew, I realized that in his life of poverty, he was one of the richest people I knew. And it took me a lot of years to understand that wealth isn’t about objects, it’s about the jewels we acquire from our families, our deep friendships, and doing what we love.
What are the jewels in your life?
Who are the jewels that you would miss if they were lost?
What do you want to be doing that you’re passionate about, but are not doing?
What are the things you are doing that you don’t want to be doing?
Finding Your Jewels
I have a lot of regrets because when living in different cities, I did not spend enough time with my jewel of a friend. I got busy with my career and failed to get on the phone with him enough or visit enough. Then, suddenly, he was gone. Thankfully, I visited him before he died, took him to chemo treatments, but what I found amazing is that each day, he was having fun, laughing, and doing the things he loved. He did not change a thing, because he was already living well, and continued doing so.
Too many others have a wakeup call and suddenly, when they learn their time is up, start trying to catch up and do what they love.Do it now.
Don’t wait another moment.
Don’t burn time on meaningless things.
This week alone I lost two good friends, each I’d not spoken to or visited, yet wish I had. And in today’s uncertain world, you, me, or the jewels in our lives could be gone instantly.
This fall, at my Fall Color Week artist retreat, I realized how important each of these people had become to me, and I made a point to spend more time enjoying their company, knowing that the uncertainty of the world might mean it would be our last time together. The result was that my experience was richer and deeper.
Who do you need to see or talk to more?
What do you need to do that will bring you more joy than anything else?
What’s getting in your way?
Obsess about things that matter.