A few days after I arrived in Sydney my friend Noah emailed me with the sad news that a good friend of mine passed away. Eric had died of a heart attack over the weekend in Huntsville, Alabama.
Eric and I had been working closely together for the three years that I was with Boeing. He was excellent at his job and even better at removing himself from that role and just becoming a friend. Though we worked at two separate control centers, I looked forward to the frequent chats we would have over the phone and on the radio loops. During his trips to Houston, he would always make time to come and see me at my lab. I’d roll out the red carpet for him every time.
Our friendship only grew when I talked to him about my travels. When I decided to leave Boeing, he was the first person I told. I caught him on the last day of his trip to Houston, the morning he was leaving to go back home. I found him at breakfast in his hotel, took him aside and broke the news. Eric relied on me heavily and I knew that my departure would affect our projects and his job significantly. He told me how much it meant to him that I would talk to him so personally, and then we spent the rest of the time talking about my future travels. Eric was in the Navy and he told me about all the ports he visited, and how much fun it was to see the world. He told me how jealous he was that I would do something like this, wishing he could come with me and do it all over again.
When I was heading towards San Francisco, Eric would sit and tell me about the time he spent there, especially visiting the In-N-Out burger chains on the west coast. On one of the days in the city, I walked from downtown to Fisherman’s Wharf to eat at the In-N-Out there. I took a picture of my meal, a burger and fries, and sent it to him. He told me how he took his wife on their first date to a place called Tommy’s Original Burger, in an LA neighborhood. His second date with her was at an In-N-Out burger near her house.
It seems in the Navy, when you cross the equator for the first time, you go from being a ‘Pollywog’ to becoming a ‘Shellback’. When I crossed the equator on my way to Sydney, I took out my camera on the plane and snapped a picture of the flight path map, to show Eric that I was a ‘Wog no more. He responded with a hefty “CONGRATULATIONS!” and pictures of his new grandson.
Eric was one of the most avid readers of this blog. He would tell me how much he enjoyed the stories and pictures and how much he laughed about it all. Often I would write entries knowing that he’d be reading them. When I reached Brisbane, after returning from my trip to the States for Laura’s funeral, I sent him an email to check up on him. Included in his response, “Family is doing well … Grandson getting bigger ever day. Sons and spouses doing well. Wife and I still love everyday together.” He died that weekend.
I sent a card to his wife expressing my condolences. Since I had no return address I wrote down my email, but I have not heard if she received it.
I am intensely grateful for the friendship Eric gave me, I believe everyone should have such a friend. From him I learned to appreciate my travels and the finer things in life (like an In-N-Out burger), and the lesson that the world will keep spinning even if you sit down to take a break, so go ahead and grab a seat with a good view.