I arrived early at the Common Roots Café for the March Jack’s event, Nintendo Switch Boot Camp. Kyle was setting up.
Alan was there as well and remembered me from a previous Jack's event. Nice. I must really make an impression, I thought, not knowing if it was good or bad.
Kyle started by introducing himself. He told us about Jack, a man who had ‘cut through it’ so many years earlier with his inspiring message of ‘Serving the Caregiver.' This was the mission of Jack’s Caregiver Coalition. This was why Kyle was here, and he served us well that afternoon.
He then introduced Merrick, his son, and our instructor. He wore camo and shades. He had his work cut out for him today. His mission: to teach a bunch of old, video-game challenged guys how to play Switch MarioKart.
Six caregivers came to play, forming 3 teams: 'The Dominators', Peter and I; 'The Winners 2' (long story), Julian and Eric; and 'The Winners', Chris and Alan.
Merrick let us know that mastering Switch MarioKart was serious business.
Early in his teachings – say, 3 minutes in - somewhere around the discussion of the ‘A’ button being the ‘X’ button because the controllers were held sideways, I started to get foggy. I remember something about a trigger making your car 'drift' and speed up if held a certain amount of time. I stopped listening and decided to do what I do when driving in near white-out conditions - grip the wheel and focus 10 feet ahead.
In this case, thumb tightly on tiny joystick, staring at curves and obstructions in the road. That was my strategy. I’m not speaking for the other 3 other guys who weren’t on the winning team, but that might have been theirs as well.
In the end, Chris and Alan dominated on the road that day, but I didn’t leave empty handed.
As Peter and I were discussing poor strategy choices, our conversation was interrupted when Merrick named me the 'Charlie Brown' award winner. Obviously, an ‘MVP’ type of award, I assumed. Jake, my 11-year-old Switch player, will be so proud.
Then the champions challenged Merrick and he quickly reminded them of their rightful place in the video game pecking order.
The dynamic of ‘getting it’ hung thick in the air.
The competition was fierce that day and training was top notch. We all learned a lot, and, in the end, really did want to win.
But the best part of the event had nothing to do with MarioKart or winning or even the ‘Charlie Brown’ award. The best part was the unspoken/spoken stuff that went on between drifts, button pushing, trash talking, and feasting. It was the 'off the track' stuff that meant the most to me that day.
This was a group of caregivers who simply ‘get it’ and were willing to share their struggles as cancer caregivers with others in that role. That’s a rare thing and well worth a trip across the river.
As I was leaving, I ran into one of the guys and flashed my Charlie Brown cup. ‘Look at that,’ I beamed.
He smiled. ‘That just means you were the worst player.’
I knew that. Jake loved the cup, though. He didn’t need to know.