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The Long Drive



Today is the 15th anniversary of the passing of my father, Milt Bernhart.


My mother Martie died in April of 1993. At the time we lost her, my dad had already agreed to emcee a Stan Kenton tribute concert in July at Centrum, the Port Townsend, Wash., arts center of which Bud Shank served as artistic director. I'm pretty sure my dad didn't want to go. It's hard enough to be engaging and funny and "up" on a stage in the city where you live, let alone a thousand miles from home. And you've just been widowed after 35 years of marriage.

But my dad kept his commitment. Getting out of town for a little while would be his grief therapy. The loving embrace of dozens of colleagues and friends could only help as he worked through his loss. However, when it came to the method by which he would get to Port Townsend from L.A., he went his own way, as usual. Instead of a plane or a train, he chose an automobile. He rented a car at Burbank Airport and was gone for the next two weeks: three days of driving each way between Southern California and the Olympic Peninsula, plus the week he spent at Centrum itself. I would have gladly accompanied him, but from the moment he told me the plan, it was clear he wanted to do it alone. Time to think, time to reflect, time to come up with jokes for the concert.

When he returned, my dad mentioned that he had narrowly avoided an accident with a truck on the next-to-last day of his drive back to the Southland. He was on Interstate 5 somewhere around Los Banos and decided he'd like to spend the night at the coast. Santa Cruz or Monterey it may have been, about a hundred miles to the west. And it was already getting dark. The only road linking that portion of I-5 with the coast offers just a single lane in each direction for stretches and is notorious for its head-on collisions. My dad never elaborated on the details; all I could do was feel grateful that I had no reason to regret not having insisted on going along.


Miss you, Hon.

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