Sonny Said Nothing, I Learn a lot

It seems a lifetime ago that I hightailed it for Winnemucca, but it was just two short weeks ago – before COVID-19 rearranged my life. But then, the walls here in Boise were closing in on me. I needed to breathe. Voices in my head were taking up space where peace should have been.

Never mind why.

So you know how I posted on the day I left for Winnemucca that I’d had a really weird dream where Sonny Bono told me three times, “The Red Lion Inn in Winnemucca is a very nice place to stay”?

As long as I was running away anyway, it was a fine time to try to understand why I had such a strange dream. Don’t go all Twilight Zone on me and tell me you don’t wonder about your own dreams. You do, the ones you can’t trace to bad pizza anyway.

The thing is, when I had the dream I already knew the Red Lion. When I was little, we used to drive cross-country on I-80 to Denver to visit family every summer. It was an interminably long hot slog between Reno, Salt Lake City, and the Rockies beyond. My brother and I could only go so long without melting down. Literally.

We had no air conditioning in the old red Ford station wagon, so the Red Lion Inn in Winnemucca with its sparkling blue pool was a great place to stop. A welcome way-station.

You may not know, but Sonny Bono was one half of the monster pop duo – Sonny and Cher. When he and Cher later divorced, he became the butt of many jokes – a clown – until he wasn’t. He eventually became Mayor of Palm Springs and then a Congressman before dying relatively young in a skiing accident at Tahoe.

Here’s a clip I found on YouTube from a Nightline piece about his life. It’s poignant.

“Today in Washington, the flag was drawn down to half mast,” reported Keith Morrison in 1998. “For Sonny Bono. Imagine that. He hustled his way into show business and brought a waif named Cher with him. But even then, in 1965, the act was more her than him. They broke up in 1975, the year some people call the true end of the sixties. But she soared and he sank. That’s when he got stuck in the past.”

“When Sonny and Cher went down, then Cher was on the cover of Time, her records were a hit and then she would get in a movie, and then I’d be going, you know, I am part of that,” said Bono.

He told me once a decade ago, Morrison continued, that [when that happened], everything good was lost, his life was over. “I lost a career, I lost a family…”

And then somehow, he got up again, said Morrison. “…then the singer/songwriter, the skinny kid from the Sunset Strip, got into politics… It wasn’t until he won that people could see how important it was. That this was the way he saved his own life…”

Sonny said it this way. “…sometimes because people can’t let go of that past, it stops them from moving forward and becoming what they should be in the future.”

“In 1994 [Sonny] was elected to Congress, and expectations were not that high. But he had an easy way and a ready humor… Of course Sonny Bono never really let go of his past,” finished Morrison. “Who would? But one thing. He wasn’t stuck there.”

I too have a past. If truth be told I’ve spent time lately thinking about what I’ve lost and what I never had. I need a new path. So we have that in common, Sonny and I.

When I arrived at the old Red Lion (now the Winemucca Inn), I checked in. When I walked the dog on a strip of green grass, I became nostalgic as I tried to remember being there with my parents. I hardly recognized it, but it still serves as a way-station for weary travelers: kids splash in the pool until dark, parents drink adult beverages and laugh.

“What was so important that I had to come all the way down here?” I muttered to no one in particular. “What am I supposed to understand?” I asked myself.

Sonny, I muttered facetiously, what am I doing here?

He said nothing. I went to bed.

The next morning I awoke still wondering, and as I left Winnemucca headed east, I considered that maybe there was no significance to the dreams or my trip. Maybe it was the pizza.

But somewhere between Winemucca and Elko, an epiphany came.

As I drove through the vast, baking sagebrush sea, I recognized an long-forgotten feeling of traveling cross-country untethered at both ends. Of being free.. And it was then I knew that Sonny had nothing more for me.

The dream wasn’t about him or the Red Lion. It was about me getting back out there on the road. It was about my life, my future. About stopping my anxious thoughts to listen to Someone larger than myself. About getting my head straight. I was there to clear away clutter, to figure out my path forward, unencumbered by the past – personal, political, whatever.

Driving across the arid Nevada desert, “Let go, simplify, Teri”, was what I heard. There are too many things competing for your attention. Don’t worry about what you’re going through or what you’ve lost. Ready yourself for what’s to come. Figure out what you need to do to get there and stand on it.

So I came home and started resigning from obligations, making room for the new – whatever that will be. Unlike Sonny, politics won’t probably save me, but there will be something else. I will move forward. I will become what I seek.

I’ve had a short setback while I wait to learn about my test results – and what the overall impact of the pandemic will be. But I’ll be moving forward again.

Thanks, Sonny. The Red Lion Inn in Winnemucca is a very nice place to stay. As it was in the past, it was two weeks ago: a way-station between where I was and where I’m going – what I’m becoming.

Thanks, Sonny. For a dead guy who said nothing, you taught me a lot.

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I like going places: out West, west of the West, and East. North, south, I go by train, plane, automobile, horseback. Whatever.

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