Nineteen Hours and Forty Two Minutes.

Nineteen hours and forty two minutes of reading, small talk, fidgeting and eventually, for the lucky ones, snoring. On Saturday, February 16th, I boarded a bus, bound for Washington DC to participate in a climate change rally. There were 187 Minnesotans in all, united in our opposition to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This pipeline will unlock and carry the dirty tar sands oil out of Canada across the Great Plains, to a tax free zone in Texas, where it will be shipped around the world to the highest bidder. This rally would try to awaken a slumbering, or should I say uninterested or uneducated nation, to the horrific damage they are doing to the future lives of their greatest treasure, their grandchildren.

The bus ride would take us 19 hours and 42 minutes, leaving Minneapolis at 2:30 pm and driving straight through to D.C. in time for the rally at noon on Sunday. We would be in the District of Columbia for less than 10 hours before retracing the path home. A total round trip bus ride of 39 hours and 24 minutes, with a bladder that reminded me, with every bump in the road, that it soon needs to be emptied. As the night and bus rumble on, I try to ignore the ascending cues of biology, not wanting to have to stumble over uncomfortable bodies, in the dark of night, on the way to a bathroom, rejected as too small by the international space station. A tiny lavatory filled, not only by my portly body, but with the olfactory
shock of the swishing excrement of 55 altruists, whom I had never before met.

We arrived in Fort Wayne, Indiana, at 12:33 am to switch drivers. I start to question my decision to take this trip as my neck and back start to ache. My eyes are blinking like a toad in a hailstorm but I am just too uncomfortable to sleep. Maybe I should have just sent a donation to the or the Sierra
Club and let them fight for the next seven generations.

The bus rolls along in the dawn and through the salt covered windows I see signs for Antietam and Gettysburg. Suddenly, my discomforts seem incredibly insignificant. Those battlefields whisper of heroes who gave their lives to their cause while I only gave up a 3 day weekend for mine. My sleep-deprived mind ponders my legacy as the importance of the rally sinks in. Somewhere between Minneapolis and Clarksburg, I must have crossed the continental divide of my life. I find myself questioning what I will leave to my grandchildren, and no longer thinking of the earthly treasures that the approaching golden years could bring me. My dreams of retiring to a lake cabin or taking a trip around the world on a
sailboat or a yak, or anything but a damn bus, are no longer important anymore.

A planet in peril is what I fear that my grandkids will inherit from me and my generation. Those thoughts are what summon a normally rationally thinking man to pay $150 to ride a bus less comfortable than the one driven by Sandra Bullock in the movie “Speed.” The dire predictions of warming temperatures, rising seas, catastrophic storms and drought are being witnessed all around the Earth now. How severe will the conditions when my granddaughter is 12 and wants to interview me, an old person, for her history project?

How do I explain to my granddaughter why we gambled with her future? Can I possibly explain why my generation, known in future history texts as “the greediest generation,” would not listen to the warnings of the climate scientists? I know both explanations will have to use the words greed, laziness and disrespect. How do I explain the logic that we cared enough about our unborn children not to smoke or drink during pregnancy, believing the scientific research that says is it harmful to the fetus? Yet, we ignore or disregard the data of climate scientists and the impact on those children they protected during pregnancy. We spend big money to vaccinate, fluoridate and educate our kids and then pull the rug right out from under them by trashing the very environment they will live in.

As we enter Virginia on Interstate 495 my thoughts drift to my grandfathers and I question what I inherited from them. Frank Kennedy was half Irish and half Native American. I never met him as he died before I was born. I have been told that I inherited his sense of humor. The mirror and old photos, tell me I also inherited his hairline or should I say lack of. FJ, as he was called, had very little financially to pass on to me. His work, mowing ditches with a scythe for the county, didn’t afford him the wages required to own his own home.

David Collins was Irish as well and a successful farmer. He had a nice home and a small farm and ten children. I knew Grandpa Collins fairly well but didn’t ever have the relationship with him that I hope to someday have with my, yet unborn, grandchildren. I inherited blue eyes, bad knees and stubbornness from him. When told by an oncologist, a month before his death, that they needed to amputate his leg due to cancer in his knee, he replied, “Go ahead, but start cutting here”‘ pointing to his neck.

I didn’t get any pats on the back or pearls of wisdom from my grandfathers. They never made it to any of my baseball games. They didn’t endow me with a trust fund, but they did pass along to me, through the miracles of DNA, the gift of common sense. It was a simple accident of latitude that allowed me to be born and live in the beautiful climate of Minnesota, where I could apply that common sense. My grandfathers unknowingly passed on to me the best inheritance a kid could get; a simple chance to create my own life on the beautiful Earth. This is the very same gift their grandparents bestowed upon them, and is what I intend to pass on.

Our bus had finally arrived and it felt so good to be walking along Constitution avenue. Suddenly, I heard the roar of the crowd and I got goosebumps. Fifty thousand people of all ages, genders and races had come from all over the country to this powerful event, to make their voices heard. The 50k travelled to Washington, D.C. not for monuments or cherry blossoms, but out of love and respect for those who will follow our footsteps and for those without voices. The long bus ride was a tiny sacrifice in comparison to what was given at Gettysburg, Normandy or by crossing the Atlantic from County Donegal to Ellis Island. The purpose, however, was the same, to make life better for those that we love.


Pat Collins