When Love is Your Royal Straight

I am sitting at a poker table in Reno. An empty one. Ironically, I don’t gamble, but for 2 out of the 3 nights each year when we drive from Austin to Lake Tahoe for my annual bike ride with Team in Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, we stay in both Las Vegas and Reno on the way up. IMG_4714This is our third trip in 5 years. 2 years ago, we could still call Maureen back in Austin and keep her up to date on our journey. 5 years ago, we were in Reno together. The kids and I had made the drive, and Maureen had flown into Reno for the weekend of the ride. We were here as a family, along with Kethan and his mom and dad, Sumithra and Lokesh. 5 years ago was a true celebration.

As day dawned in Vegas today, I decided to stroll around the Mandalay Bay casino before leaving on our drive. A casino is a very different place in the morning. Quieter. The lights are still bright; the machines still ring out; and there is still a poker table open for a game. The kids and I had dinner here five years ago on our first trip up. We ate at RM Seafood. RM. Rick Moonen. A Top Chef Master. Top Chef is a big part of our lives as a family. We have watched over ten seasons together. On Friday nights. Pizza night and Top Chef. We’ve learned the chefs’ names. Their quirks. Their idiosyncrasies. Rick came out that night to say hi to the kids. It was a special night. This is a special place.
And, this morning was a special morning, because I realized something powerful as I strolled the casino floor. We are a “five card” family. There are two powerful symbols of luck at a casino. The first is the epic royal straight at a poker table. Five cards. Same suit. 10-Joker-Queen-King-Ace. Five cards. In a row. With royalty. The other symbol of luck is the lucky 7. On a slot machine, 3 lucky 7s is a big thing. The machine really rings, and stuff comes out. Well, these days, coins don’t come pouring out but you get credits on your gaming card.

As is always the case with my writing, days, weeks, sometimes months pass, and then in an instant, it all comes together, and I write. And post. Today was that day. Since January, I have been training for this 100 mile bike ride around Lake Tahoe. In almost every post about the ride, almost every email asking for people’s support, I have pointed out that this is my 7th ride in 7 years. It seemed important. Today, those 7s took on a entirely different meaning.

After 3 trips on many of the same highways, the kids and I have come to know the scenery, the turns, and our favorite places. We know that Vegas to Reno means hundreds of miles of open spaces and mountains in the distance. We knew it was a long day. 7 hours of driving actually. The open spaces are so open that there are long stretches of “No service.” An iPhone or iPad without access to Snap Chat or Instagram could spell doom but not today. For about, halfway through the drive, we came into Goldsmith, Nevada. I knew something was up when I saw a sign for the Super7. Then, I had this feeling, that feeling that comes over me sometimes. I’ve learned to listen. Maureen is speaking.

Taylor was driving, and I asked him to turn right at the stop sign and come back around the block, so we could stop at the general store we had just passed. Before I had asked him to turn, I had simply blurted out, “I think we need to stop there for our drinks.” I don’t know what it was about this little brown store that called out to me. But, as we all got out of the car, it quickly became clear as we entered the front door. Lucky 7s.

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As is always the case when heaven and earth begin to merge, everything suddenly became suspended as events unfolded quickly. Going into the store, the rack with powdered donuts was visible immediately. There was no doubt that even though it wasn’t the 21st, we were buying a sleeve to commemorate these lucky 7s. As I asked the owner of the store to take our picture with the donuts, I figured I ought to share these details with her. As I told her the story of the powdered donut, of my beautiful bride of almost 25 years, Maureen, and her battle with breast cancer, Chelley looked at me and said, “I’m fighting breast cancer right now.” We were meant to be in this place at this moment, on this day.

We were meant to come across this town of lucky 7s on this day, because a truly epic meeting had just finished not hours earlier in Austin. We had received an email from the CEO of Austin Habitat for Humanity sharing the details. A beautiful partnership was being born that will take the house that Taylor spearheaded in memory of his mom to a whole new level. There is still a lot to be worked out with this partnership, so it is too soon to share all the details, but suffice it to say Taylor’s mom, the girls’ mom, my bride was talking to us again. Maureen was with us on this journey. In Goldsmith.

Pho 777When we arrived in Reno, we headed straight to our new favorite restaurant. 5 years ago, when we were here with Maureen, we had Chinese at a truly funky spot. Funky as in, oh boy. We better not do this again. 2 years ago we found a great Pho place, so great that we wanted to come back with Maureen so she could share in our delight. We will never share this food with her, but sitting there tonight with the loves of my life, the loves of Maureen’s life, Taylor, Kyla and Katelyn, the full meaning of being a five card family sunk in as we reflected on this amazing day.

Because, you see love is from the heart, and our family is indeed a royal straight. Our Queen is in heaven, and she is bringing us nothing but luck.