1989 - Memphis
"Okay, do we have enough room for everyone?" the Professor asked himself as he peered down the aisle of the comfortable coach parked at an airport lot in Memphis.
Checking to his right he saw Mark Sanger chatting with the former Corbie Joplin. Even after so many years, it warmed his heart to see the pair together. Corbie went to work for Mark in his law office. They had become dear friends and never forgot her husband (and Mark's cousin), Joe. Eventually, the friendship became something more and finally the pair married in 1980.
"Do you have a spot for me?" came the quiet inquiry from a tall, slender graying man as he boarded the coach.
"Ed, I am so glad you were able to join us!" Steve replied. "How has life in Denver been treating you?"
"I keep busy although not as busy as when I worked in San Francisco and crossed paths with the likes of you, Keller." Ed was now a high ranking official within the Denver Police Department. As handsome as ever, a few extra pounds and grey hair made him even more distinguished.
Steve chuckled at the bravado but added, "I really do appreciate you coming all this way. This being the 25th anniversary of the Freedom Summer and our bus ride to the south, I couldn't think of a better way to honor the memory of Joe and Ruth."
"I agree, and it's a great way for me to reunite with Mark and the Chief," Ed added.
"But didn't the original ride start in San Francisco?" Mark asked.
Steve smiled at the memory. "The bus pulled out of one of the parking lots in Berkeley. Ruth was at the helm. There were mostly white kids, but a few black students came along, including Joe. He and I ended up sitting together and got to know one another well. But it took five days for us to make our way south and then back east to Mississippi. It was a scorching summer, too. Of course, the coach wasn't as nice as this one. There was no air conditioning as I recall."
"And starting the ride in Memphis will save some time," Ed added.
"Twenty five years on, it's hard for people to make the time to do this. It took the better part of a week for us to get here back in '64 and then it took about that coming back. I don't think people up are for that now. Most of the people are like us: approaching middle age or older, although we do have a few students," Steve commented as he once again counted what few empty seats remained.
"How about our two elder statesmen? When will the Chief and Mike be joining us?" Ed asked.
"Are you kidding? The Chief heard about a place in Oxford that made the best chili in the country. He dragged Mike down here a few days early to check the place out. I think they are going to take a culinary tour of Memphis, go see Graceland and then head down to Ole Miss for the chili and maybe some SEC basketball. They are going to meet us in Jackson."
"How is Mike doing? Is he retired from the force?" Ed enjoyed working with the detective and often thought that he and Mike would have made good partners had the situations been different.
"Only just. He used to brag about me being the youngest fill-in-the blank. You know, the youngest detective, the youngest inspector and the youngest tenured professor. I brag about him being the oldest cop to bring down a bad guy. He busted a guy just a week before his seventieth birthday. Even Rudy Olsen retired before that. But with Mike, you just never known. He's going to go on forever."
Ed smiled. "We can only hope. Hey, didn't Mike have a daughter? What happened to her?"
"Ah, yes. Jeannie lives in Seattle with her husband and two boys. I haven't talked to her in a while, but I'm sure she's happy" Steve commented with a wistful look.
"Sounds like there's a story there," Corbie whispered to Mark, to which Mark nodded.
"So Steve, twenty five years later. Did you make a difference?" Ed asked his host. An attentive crowd awaited an answer.
"Did we make a difference? You know, it's hard for me to say," Steve answered thoughtfully. "I mean, yes, we helped register voters and that's always a good thing. But what we aimed to do was make sure that blacks had a fair and level playing ground with everyone else. Has that happened? Not consistently. There's more work to be done, but I'd like to think that we're on our way."
"But when you think about where Civil Rights was in the fifties, the progress has been solid," Corbie added.
"True, but the problem now is that, like everything else, the cause has been politicized. Thanks to the current group in DC, we now have lobbyists and special interest groups everywhere that drive the political agenda from their coffers. If we aren't careful, our political system and our government will become corrupt. When that happens, game over." While a criminology professor, Steve was not above commenting on politics. He even comtemplated running for a post in Berkeley's city council.
"Do you think we'll ever have a black president in our lifetime?" Mark wondered.
"We'll have a black president before we have a female," Corbie answered without a doubt.
"Yeah, I think I'd agree with you on that one, Corbie," Steve said. "I believe in my heart that the majority of people simply want to do the right thing and deep down harbor no ill will against anyone, regardless of their color or gender. Nevertheless, it's going to be a longer road for a female president than a black one. But you know what my true vision would be?"
"What's that?" Corbie asked.
"We elect a black or a woman, but no one realizes it. No one notices it or questions it. Instead, the person is elected simply based on what they can do."
"Like Uhura," Mark responded. "She's the smartest chick on the bridge yet no one cares that she's so hot."
Corbie began to open her mouth, but the stopped.
"Gotcha," Mark replied with a slight smile.
Ed ignored his former colleague. "Just think of that, though. There's some young man or woman out there that will be our leader at some point."
"I've got a few students who I think would make great leaders. I have no problems turning this country over to them. As a matter of fact, one of them is going to be on the bus ride with us."
"Really?" Ed asked. "Is it someone from your class?."
"Yes," Steve responded and then gave Corbie a winkie. "May I introduce you to my number one pupil? Ladies and gentleman, I give you "Mr. Joseph Joplin Jr.' here to take the spot of honor where his father sat twenty five years ago. Joe, please - I have the same spot that your dad and I sat all those years ago. It would be my honor for to sit by you today."
"Thank you, Professor," young Joe said as he shook Steve's hand. "Hi Mom!" the young man said as he walked passed Corbie and Mark smiling from ear to ear.
Yes, Mark thought to himself, I can't think of a better way to honor Joe and Ruth's memory than this. He reached around and placed his arm around Corbie's shoulder and gave her a squeeze.