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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Memories of Vapor

Dan's parents requested some written thoughts on their son, so here goes:

I met my friend Dan Feather through my cousins (Kevin and Dan Burtchett). They where all attending SMSU at the time, studying computer science. This of course translated into lots of LAN parties, to which I would lug my computer down from Rolla to participate in.

Quake was the game of choice at the time and Vapor (Dan's handle) was the undisputed champion. Our friendship grew quickly and easily, Dan was just a likable kind of guy. We shared a lot of views and enjoyed many geeky conversations on technology, daily observations, funny and embarrassing things we did, as well as some deeply philosophical discussions.

As fate would have it, Dan and I ended up working at O'Reilly Auto Parts together. There was a whole band of us that became close friends. At one point, Dan, Zac and Katie, my sister, and my cousins Kevin and Dan all lived in the same apartment complex, Sunchase. There was always a party or an outing or some sort of get-together going on. We shared many good laughs growing up into adulthood.

Dan and I had officicles next to each other at work. We called them officicles because they were just cubicles with taller walls and a door. Not quite an office and not quite a cubical. Eventually we acquired offices with real walls, again next to each other. Often we chatted, about work or about life. We collaborated on some projects, Dan usually taking the technical or design lead. He was a natural problem solver.

Kevin, Chris Polka, Dan and I all went to New York City one summer for an extended weekend. The whole trip is a blur. We walked our butts off on that trip taking in as many sites as we could. The World Trade Center was still a hole in the ground.

I remember we wanted to find a "cool" NYC bar to hang out in. Somehow we ended up in a gay bar, not exactly what we had intended. But we were tired and they were serving drinks.

It's the little silly things I remember most. Dan had an affinity for caffeinated products. From super-charged drinks to caffeinated breath mints he tried them all, and always shared.

I remember Dan had a running list on the board in his office: "things you can't breathe." It consisted of things Dan would accidentally choke himself with. I would hear him coughing through the wall, then get the instant message "OK, adding Mountain Dew to the list of things you can't breathe."

Dan liked to go fast, and did so often when he drove us around at lunch. His first new car out of college was a Honda Accord coupe. It was a nice car that came with some bad luck. First he was rear-ended it in and it ended up literally sitting on top of a Corvette. Then sometime later after it was fixed some punks stole his stereo then set it on fire. That was the end of the Accord.

During one lunch outing in the Accord Dan was entering 65 northbound from Battlefield. The car in front, to no surprise, was going too slow for Dan. He checked his mirror then gunned it and swung out of the exit ramp across both lanes of traffic to pass the slower vehicle. Unfortunately for all of us there was a pick-up in the far left lane in his blind spot.

The truck ended up in the median, at which point we all said some expletives. To our surprise the jacked up 4x4 passed us in the median and got back into our lane of traffic. Then he stopped with us directly behind him. Out of the truck came this huge, mulleted, redneck. He was wearing cut-off jean shorts, giant workboots, and a tank top. He was either a painter or a drywaller judging by the white stains all over him and he was pissed (understandably).

With this guy coming at us we looked behind to see that it was clear and Dan immediately backed up and took off. We snaked around town a bit to make sure we lost him. We were late coming back from lunch but we were still alive. We got lucky both that we didn't hurt anybody and that the giant redneck didn't pull Dan from the car! Dan felt pretty embarrassed about that for a long time.

Dan was a sensitive guy though he hid it from most though with his dry humor. We talked about his family sometimes. He loved them all very much. He was very protective of his little sister. He'd tell me about something she did that he didn't approve of, or how he was keeping a close eye on her latest boyfriend. Ultimately he was glad who Missy married, Dan told me he really was a good guy.

He loved his parents very much and I know was always looking to make them proud. He spoke of his father like he was superman. It was a realization for him when his Dad started having medical issues (back problems I think?). He told me realized then his Dad wasn't always going to be around and was making an effort to get to spend more time with him.

Dan and I had lunch together a few weeks before he died. We didn't see too much of each other after he started working at Jack Henry. I'd stop in occasionally and see him at Geekerz on Friday night or have a drink with him at a Springfield bloggers meeting. He was a regular at the downtown venues. All the waitresses and bartenders knew him by name and what his favorite meals or drinks where.

At lunch we talked about old times and of the future. He hadn't yet decided to buy the bike. At the time he was thinking of buying a house. To my surprise he was talking about getting a piece of land, big enough he could have a shop building with lots of tools to build things with, and of course room enough for his motorcycle.

The last time I talked to Dan was a couple weeks ago. I invited him out to the farm and we agreed to make some time to make it happen... I'll take a rain check on our visit.

Dan, you're going to be missed.

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Blogger Jack said...

A beautiful tribute.

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Kirk Strauser said...

Hey Duane. That really was nicely said. However, I'm pretty sure from memory that Dan's parent's didn't drink and might take some of that the wrong way ("our son was a fast-driving drunkard?"). I know that's not how you meant it or how it'd come across to most, but should you happen to talk to them in the future you might want to ixnay the drinking stories.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Duane Keys said...

His mom asked me to write about him, anything I could remember "good or bad" she told me. She said they knew their son, but wanted to know of Dan the friend. I'm sure he didn't hide the fact that he drank or drove fast from them (obviously not at the same time).

12:13 PM  
Anonymous kirk strauser said...

Fair enough, then.

Probably just me being overly sensitive to the general suckiness of the situation.

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Jason said...

Very well written. My sympathy to you for the loss of your friend and to his family.

8:18 PM  

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