What do you say about a house guest who makes his bed, prepares dinner, washes the dishes. and walks your dog?
If you’re me, you say, “It’s just what I expected coming from Al.”
Al Rodriguez is my best friend, mi compadre. Has been since freshman year of high school. We met as grade school kids when our dads took us to a San Francisco Giants baseball game at Candlestick Park. (Actually, it might have been when we were in junior high — there’s some dispute about that. But there’s no disputing the friendship that’s stretched out across five decades.)
We ran track and cross country together in high school. Talked about girls and relationships over countless cups of coffee and late-night meals in suburban Fremont. Became roommates during our junior year at San Jose State after he transferred there from the private college he’d been attending in South Dakota.
Two years later, he was the best man at our wedding. All three of us were just 22.
In the years following graduation, Lori and I headed north to Oregon, where we’ve planted our roots and raised our family. Al remained in California, working in the public and nonprofit sectors, and for nearly 20 years has made his home in Santa Barbara, where he lives with his wife, Elizabeth. They are extraordinarily close to their only child, Nicole.
We sometimes went years between visits. We’d often rendezvous in Los Angeles when I was attending a job fair on behalf of my former employer. But lately we’ve been able to see each other at least once a year, and that’s been due in no small part to his willingness to come up to Portland for the annual Voices of August meetup.
That was the reason for his most recent stay. He arrived on a Friday, left on a Wednesday. In between, the three of us got to catch up in depth. And I got to spend some Bro Time with him on consecutive nights before he left for the airport.
Sunday: After Saturday’s small-but-stellar meetup of VOA contributors, we chilled the following day. Took an extended walk in our neighborhood, enjoying the fall colors and giving our excitable dog, Charlotte, some time to walk off a little energy. Came home and turned the kitchen over to Al, who prepared two trays of chicken enchiladas.
Monday: While Lori and I worked in the morning, Al hopped on a TriMet bus to a public swimming pool in North Portland. Took him to lunch downtown so he (er, we) could indulge in the food carts. Picked one that was selling Middle Eastern food — Kafta House! scrumptious! — and chatted with the Syrian owners for a bit.
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In the evening, Al and I enjoyed a Pop-Up Magazine presentation at Revolution Hall. I’d attended one the year before so I knew what to expect: an evening of live entertainment featuring writers, animation, video, music, dancing and a karaoke piece that had the whole auditorium singing along to the Journey classic “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Tuesday: Again, we had to work in the morning. This time Al borrowed my bike and rode south along the Eastside Esplanade and the Willamette Greenway down to the Sellwood Bridge. All three of us took an afternoon walk in the Alberta Arts District, from the Tiny Houses Hotel to Bernie’s Southern Kitchen and back. Stopped for a happy hour beverage and toasted our friendship.
After a multiethnic dinner of Al’s leftover enchiladas and Lori’s luscious lasagna, Al and I went to the Trail Blazers’ home opener against New Orleans. Traffic was really heavy, which caused us to miss the ear-splitting introductions and other hoopla. But we found our seats a couple minutes in and enjoyed the outcome: a Portland win.
Wednesday: We said our goodbyes in the morning and left Al to enjoy breakfast on his own, followed by an Uber ride to the airport.
Friendships can be hard to maintain in this era of texting and increasingly rare phone calls. In this case, I’m grateful for the enduring bond that took root in the mid-’60s, long before Al and I met our wives.
Simply put, Al (or Al Rod, as he was known in high school) is a rock. Someone I can talk to candidly — and listen to attentively — because we know each other so well. He calls me out when I deserve it. He needles me because he can. And he makes me feel valued because he listens carefully and responds thoughtfully and constructively.
Proud to have known this man for as long as I have and to call him my best friend. Mi compadre.
Heck, even Charlotte likes him.