A dozen years ago, about the time I married my wife, Suzanne, her oldest daughter, Megan, heard the Allman Brothers Band’s song “Ramblin’ Man” on the radio.
“Is that Dave’s song,” Megan asked.
“Yep,” her mom replied.
I never intended it to be “my” song, but I smile whenever I hear it.
“Ramblin’ Man” came out in 1973, beating the debut of my Ramblin’ days by nine years. I was Eastern Iowa reporter at The Gazette in 1982 when talk came up about me writing a feature column. Titles that I don’t remember any more were tossed around until Mark Bowden, then state editor and my boss, slapped “Ramblin’ with Rasdal” on my first column. It stuck, although it was shortened to “Ramblin’” in the early ’90s.
Today, my Ramblin’ column comes to an end. But I’ll be in the office through Friday. And I’ll remain a ramblin’ man till the day I die.
At the time we were naming my column, the book “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon began its ascent on best-seller lists. The author had been laid off from his college teaching job in Missouri when he set out to see America. He packed his belongings and a sleeping mattress into a simple van, collected his credit cards because he was nearly broke, and took off along the back roads often marked by blue lines on highway maps.
Inspired by Iowans I’d written about earlier, and the people William Least Heat-Moon encountered on his travels, I followed the blue highways philosophy around Eastern Iowa. I concentrated on the small towns to find fascinating folks who had stories to tell, stories that may not have otherwise found print.
Asking for a favorite would be like asking which child is your favorite. They all are.
But if two columns stand out, they would be my 1993 truck trip to California and back (an eight-part series that ran as a day-to-day account exactly two weeks after it happened) and the columns in November 1992 after I got beat up after flashing my bright lights at a slow moving car on First Avenue in Cedar Rapids.
A lot of people (including past bosses) have told me I had the best job in the world. Yep, I got paid to listen to people, to help tell their stories. More than 3,500 stories.
In 2011, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of my first column, The Gazette published “Ramblin’ Reflections of Hidden Iowa,” a coffee-table book filled with photographs and columns. I’m thankful for that. And now it’s time for another chapter.
I turn 60 on Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day. That doesn’t seem possible. Wasn’t it only yesterday that two-dozen St. Patrick’s Day babies of all ages joined me for my 45th birthday aboard a rain-soaked float in the Cedar Rapids parade?
Life is short, fleeting and unpredictable.
As I bid farewell, to borrow from the Allman Brothers:
“Now it’s time for leavin’; I hope you’ll understand; That I was born a ramblin’ man.”