Joking with Johnny

Johnny Walker and I have started doing combined interviews in preparation for the launch of our book next week. One of the things that I hope comes out in the interviews is his sense of humor. He's actually a very funny guy. Usually on purpose; sometimes not.

The book is about very serious times, so there's not all that much humor in it; hopefully some of it peeks out. And the language and culture barriers sometimes make it hard to understand his jokes. But he's a great tease.

Of course, sometimes he's just funny because he's Johnny. Add in cultural differences and the language, and it can make for some entertaining moments.

While we were working on the book, we would occasionally go for long drives in the mountains. Johnny sometimes found it easier to talk there. He's a pretty contemplative guy, and there's something about being surrounded by nature that makes it easier not just to think but to give voice to it. The drives also took us away from most distractions, both his and mine, since there was no cell coverage.

One afternoon we were driving on a deserted, winding road, when suddenly Johnny began speeding up. I looked over and realized he was playing chicken with a Hell's Angel motorcycle rider. At 80-plus. I'm not saying the road we were on was narrow or winding or high, but out my passenger side window all I could see was sky, even when I was looking down.

Racing a motorcycle across a mountain road in a sports car is one thing; doing it in a Toyota with a four-cylinder engine is quite another. Put it this way: I not only buckled my seat belt but had to grab on to something to keep from flying around the front through the turns. At several points we had less than four wheels on the pavement. (I imagine some people will point out that's the way I drive. But that's different: I'm driving.)

"You scared?" Johnny asked as we flew across a hairpin turn.

"Just seeing my life pass before my eyes," I answered.

Johnny kept racing, and eventually the Hell's Angel either ran out of gas or decided that we were crazier than he was, because he disappeared. (Now that I think about it, it's very possible he drove off the side of the road.) Johnny kept going, a little faster and a little closer to the edge, until eventually we got to where we were going.

"You weren't scared, is good," said Johnny as we got out of the car. "But if you were scared, I would slow down."

I guess that was good to know. Someday I'll explain what seeing your life pass before your eyes means to him, but in the meantime, I try to remember to phrase things in the most direct way possible.

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