It was a bright beautiful Saturday. I was to meet Pete for brunch and, as was customary, I walked the handful of miles to our usual diner. This time, though, as I walked through the parking lot, he called me over to where he was parked and asked if I had time to take a ride with him to the car dealer. Someone had smashed one of the car's outside mirrors and he had to get it fixed. As far as I was concerned, the only time constraint that afternoon was that he had a radio show to do up in the Bronx, so off we went.

The car ride was like our walks, except it rolled along at a much faster clip and it covered a longer distance. Pete had an unusual way of walking. He walked in a way that I've seen only a few people walk. He walked with a "bop". It was characteristic of him, his gait was like a Pete Fornatale grin -- it had a smile to it. And just like our walks, there was rarely any silence in the car. He spoke and told stories, much like he did on-the-air except the topics were just slightly different. We laughed the gamut of laughter, from short guffaws to outright belly laughs. And somewhere along the way, in the back of my consciousness, I wondered just where the heck this car dealership was; I knew there was none in town. The road he took brought us into town and then quickly out of it. We traveled north, then east, then south, east again and then north yet again. Where the heck was this dealership? Did he even know? It didn't matter, really. As long as the stories kept coming, and come they did. Along the way, we passed the location of "My Father's Place". Every time I pass that spot now, I flash back to this particular Saturday. 

Yes, this particular Saturday contained a lot of memories.

It took about an hour or so to get to the dealership and now that I knew where we were, once he mirror was fixed, I got us back to the diner in less than fifteen minutes. I only wish now we had taken that same long road back; it's an opportunity that is forever lost to me. But I was hungry and Pete had to get to the Bronx to do Mixed Bag in a little while [he had proudly shown me the canvas tote bag filled with CDs for the show that day].

Over lunch our conversation took a different tone, a somewhat more serious tone. It was peppered with a few "just between us" prefaces and a couple of "not for broadcast" reminders. Looking back, I now realize that was the day Pete chose me to be his friend. He gave me a glimpse of the private side of Pete and, of course, it changed nothing of the image I had of the public side of him. But all the more now, I regret not having made myself more available and more open, regret not having taken more walks or given into more late night phone conversations with him.

"Much as I'd love to, I can't live in the past," Tom Paxton once said. "It's all right to look back as long as you don't stare."

I tend to follow that quote. Much of my past is just that, in the past and since it has passed, I let it go. I rarely "stare". But the memories of this Saturday with Pete is an exception I allow. I miss him. A lot. I miss his posts on the old Mixed Bag Board. I miss his themes on Mixed Bag. I miss his book tours and the dog and pony shows.

I miss my friend.
There are constant reminders. 

The main reminder is the empty space.

It's the space that was occupied by someone who went from being a mentor whose voice came to me over the airwaves, to being  a dear friend who used to get lost on the way to my house, no matter how many times he had come to visit.

It's the space that was occupied by my 'partner-in-crime', who I laughed with as we drove around looking for the many libraries and theaters where we would do our multimedia program. Sometimes - usually only when it was absolutely necessary - we would drive to our gigs separately. And that probably meant that I would nervously be giving him directions twenty minutes before our start time because he would either be stuck in traffic somewhere ... or he had made a wrong turn.  His best friend lovingly nicknamed him 'Magellan'.  And what was so great about him was that it would make him laugh every time he heard that nickname. But when he arrived at those gigs it was magic, and he would never fail to delight his audiences. 

This was a man who many thought they knew intimately because of the time he had spent in their living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms. A man who had been with them at parties, in their cars, and through some of the best and worst times in their lives and in our country's history. The great thing to witness was when, amazingly and refreshingly, these folks would find out upon meeting him 'live and in person' that he really WAS the warmhearted, funny, kind soul that they 'knew' so well.  It turned out that the 'barrier' of a microphone and radio speaker between him and his audience was, in many ways, an imaginary one.  And he would make all of those 'friends he had never met' laugh, think, reminisce and recapture a piece of their (sometimes 'misspent') youth. 

It blows my mind to think that I'll never Pete Fornatales's familiar voice saying 'Hey Tony, it's Pete!' through my telephone ever again.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I saved a few of his voice-mail messages. And his rendition of 'Happy Birthday' stands among one of my favorites of all time.

Oh, and did I mention that there are other constant reminders?

There are the many friends that I met directly and indirectly through Peter: dear, dear folks like Don and Linda Thiergard, the altruistic musical entrepreneur Alan Marzelli and his wife Ellen, Rex Fowler, Neal Shulman and Bobbi Dickerman from the Aztec Two-Step 'camp', Pete's son Peter Thomas, the complex but still wonderful Art Garfunkel, the delightfully talented and VERY funny Henry Gross, the 'Songman' Jim Dawson, the charming and thoughtful John Batdorf, the incredible Richie Furay (whose work with Poco and as a solo artist Pete so rightfully championed!), and many others who I have stayed in touch with. And we  still, and will continue to, exchange stories about Pete - since he was such a 'presence' for all of us - whenever we find ourselves in one another's company.

And there is the music. There are the CDs that I would blow his mind with - like the time I pulled over on the highway to retrieve some obscure Tommy Roe album from my trunk that he had just happened to mention. There is the music of Woodstock and Simon & Garfunkel, forever linked to our presentations.

And there are the people who I see during the course of my day-to-day life - some of whom know that I worked with Pete and some who do not - who will mention 'Mixed Bag', WNEW or WFUV and the influence that Pete had on them. He was their friend, too.  And so I smile with them - a sincere smile - and share in the reminiscence. 

But ... despite all of that ... there is still always going to be this empty space.

And there's one thing I'm wondering ... 
Did he get lost on the way to that interview with Jimi Hendrix that I'm sure he lined up pretty quickly two years ago?
Or, did his reputation precede him, and did Jimi come see HIM at that fully equipped radio studio - complete with turntables and a full collection of Poco albums?

When I get there, I'll ask him.  

Tony Traguardo