This book excerpt is from, “First Train Out of Denver,” written by Leo Jenkins, former Army Ranger. Leo took a giant leap of faith by giving up his career, selling almost everything he owned, and setting off on a life-changing adventure.
Arriving at Grand Central Station is as grand an experience as the name suggests. My mind flips through the catalog of movies that used this location as a backdrop. Despite having never been here, there’s a comforting familiarity. We momentarily become actors in the midst of a great role. That comfort vanishes quickly as Marty and I step into the chaos of the Manhattan street.
We swim through an endless school of frantic fish, attempting to make our way a dozen blocks to the XM radio headquarters. Arguably, the greatest city ever erected omits its own unique buzz of clamor and hustle. The stench of day-old trash permeates and lingers in the air. My neck quickly grows tired from snapping left and right, attempting to keep up with the overwhelming flood of stimulation. Men in suits all but step on the lower class, in rapid route to another merger, another acquisition of perceived power, and the snatching of arbitrary stacks of paper. A modern-day Tikal, pulsating in its prime.
Blissfully unaware of the necessity of its eventual collapse and dissolution into a fine black ink on the pages of history.
We enter the lobby and proceed up to the twenty-somethingth floor where we’re met by the show’s producer and mutual friend, Ian. Jokingly, Ian remarks how we both look homeless, chuckling to himself and guiding us through a maze of chest-high cubicles. He shows us to the much-needed free coffee and gives us the rundown of the show. We have nearly an entire hour to speak about what we’re doing, a fact that elates both Marty and myself.
Ian introduces us to the host of the show, Andrew, and we get comfortable. As Andrew introduces us on the air, there’s a distinct tone to his voice. Unlike some of the other people who interviewed us in the past week, he truly seems to care about our cause. During the interview, Andrew takes out his wallet and proceeds to remove every last dollar and hands it to us, apologizing it’s not more. The gesture fills me with gratitude and humility, following the years believing veterans were under-appreciated. After the show Andrew calls his friend, Emmet, who owns an Irish pub a few blocks away and tells him about what we’re doing. We have several hours to kill between the end of Andrew’s show and the beginning of the next one with no place to go. Without having met us, Emmet happily agrees to host us at his restaurant.
Not once do our pint glasses reach the three-finger mark before a new one is delivered. The hospitality of Emmet and his staff makes us feel like A-list celebrities. A simple phone call from Andrew explaining we’re veterans in need of a little help is all that’s required to send the staff of the already busy Irish pub into overdrive.
The world blurs by the time Marty and I excuse ourselves for our second radio interview. The compounding effects of a plethora of adult libations served in alternating sequence; beer, whiskey, beer, whiskey, and so on, sets spin to the world external. The brilliant burning bright lights of Manhattan at night swirl and melt together in a Technicolor kaleidoscope of inebriated bliss and childlike amusement. The blocks move faster this time.
“The bar tab in that place would’ve been more than our entire budget for this trip, Marty.”
“I know. We’re gonna have to remember to send them something. What an…hiccup…awesome guy!”
We arrive back at the same building, take the elevator to the same floor and end up in the same studio where we were a few hours earlier. This time, however, our inhibitions are squelched. Liquid courage flows through each of our veins. Firmly and assertively we greet our host and pull up our seats. Despite knowing less about David Webb’s show, Marty and I both exude a confidence gained from having delivered so many interviews.
By the first intermission, it’s clear we have our host’s attention. We’re concise with our now-well-practiced message. We educate David’s audience on the importance of maintaining purpose and connection post-military. We inform them about the mission of the GallantFew, providing mentorship to recently discharged veterans, pairing them with individuals of a similar caliber who’ve been out of the military for a few years and are now established. We implore anyone who may be apprehensive, yet in a position to hire a veteran, to give their application a second look, pointing out a long list of general qualities learned in the military, which are highly beneficial in the workplace.
Pushing the mic away from his face during commercial break, David asks, “Do you enjoy bourbon?” It’s difficult for me to hide my excitement in moments like this. I don’t even have to respond verbally. David signals his assistant in the sound booth and has him go get an unopened bottle of bourbon. He pours Marty and I each a healthy glass as we answer a question from a caller.
By the end of the hour, David invites us to dinner. We meet him at a steakhouse that neither Marty nor myself is appropriately dressed for. In all honesty, by this point in our trip, we aren’t dressed for Burger King. Under the weight of our tattered backpacks and stench cloud, we enter Del Frisco’s. The welcome we receive from the modelesque hostess suggests that David called ahead and told them we were coming.
He finishes up with the show and will meet us shortly. The gorgeous blonde motions to take our bags to check in the coat room, a notion I can’t help but laugh at. Not because of the irony of having my old Kelty sitting next to a bunch of thousand-dollar coats in a swanky New York City steakhouse, more the suspicion turned truth when she attempts to shoulder the overstuffed pack.
“How much does this…did you carry…what is in this thing?” “Please, you don’t have to…”
She interrupts me in that way a prideful woman will, “No, I’ve got it,” as she drags, rather than carries, the cumbersome object into the closet. Guided to our seats, Marty and I devour the free bread, while we wait for David to arrive.
In a most gracious way, David indulges his two homeless combat veteran companions with the finest steak dinner that either of us ever experienced. In as low flash a way as possible, he spares no expense. When it’s time to leave he asks his personal driver to take us to our next destination, the home of a friend living in New York City named Jack Murphy. Jack’s course of action after his time in the military made him a role model of mine. We served in 3rd Ranger Battalion around the same time.
When I left the military, Jack went on to earn his green beret and serve in Special Forces. More impressively, he later went on to become a renowned author and editor of the website where I got my start as a writer.
Jack is another guy who doesn’t quite fit the description of what most people think of when you mention Army Ranger and Green Beret. The common stereotype of a muscle-bound caveman willing and able to crush rocks with their hands is really more exception than rule. Jack, like many men in Special Operations is well spoken, intelligent and highly analytical.
Jack has always been a stand up guy, a fact further proven by his willingness to open his home to two vagrants. A beer or two later and Marty and my ability to provide engaging company comes to an anticlimactic halt. Exhaustion bites hard leaving us both drooling on Jack’s couch cushions.
We step off before Jack wakes up the next morning, a movement that really digs at me. Despite crashing in his living room, I don’t get to ask him all the questions I want to. Questions like how he made the transition from warrior to writer, how his experience in graduate school is treating him, and his future writing projects. Mission first, though.
We have one more television engagement before heading further east, further from our point of origin and closer to raising money and awareness for veteran assimilation issues.
“First Train Out of Denver” is available on Amazon now.