Ricky Dean Baker 1958-2018

Rick, Ricky, Ricardo, Ricky Dean, just plain old Baker or, more recently…”El Tejano” the crazy gringo of El Corrido, Mexico. The self-professed “Sucker”from Alton, Illinois who for no apparently good reason, was a diehard fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  He’d appreciate and understand knowing that even in death, I give him no slack on the Squeelers.

el tehano
El Tehano in Mexico

Rick, cliché or not, was the kind of guy that knew few strangers.  If you were within earshot he was bound to start up some kind of conversation, particularly if you were of the female persuasion. The boy had a self-deprecating sense of humor and goofy giggle that was at once endearing and disarming.

He really couldn’t stand a silent pause for long without filling it with some kind of random conversation. He really didn’t even require you to speak as long as you would nod or chuckle in the right places. Although we had the kind of friendship that was replete with inside jokes, long running gags and could make each other laugh while no one else understands, I’m pretty much the complete opposite so perhaps that’s why we got along so well.

While I was in the Army, being sent all over the place and he was busy with X-ray tech school in Ohio, we only saw each other briefly for a few years, but we never missed a beat when we got back together when I got leave.  We would party like the devil himself was chasing us and somehow avoided being thrown in the pokey.

After I got out of the Army I said I found the perfect place to live and was going to leave Ohio for this promised land…out to Washington State where there are mighty, high, snowcapped mountains for climbing, miles of wilderness and rainforest for hiking, the mighty Pacific Ocean and glorious Puget Sound.

I don’t think he even blinked and said I’m coming too. He packed his little Datsun King Cab pickup and I jammed my ’65 Valiant and we caravanned for over a month across the country, hitting every sight along the way.  We arrived in Tacoma on Memorial Day Weekend 1982 and the adventures began anew.

Having spent so much time with him, hiking miles into some rainy, enchanted valley in the Olympics, backpacking on some stormy, isolated ocean beach, or perched precariously high on a windblown mountain, I knew Rick better than my own family.  I won’t dwell on the adversities, but we both knew where the bodies were buried in each other’s lives… we went through plenty of highs, and a few lows, together over the years.  But we surrounded ourselves with our own wonderful “orphan family” out here on the West Coast.

Each of you have your own Ricky stories to tell, no matter how long you knew him, and I hope you keep telling them.  You may have seen me quote the author David Eagleman concerning death over Memorial Day:

“There are three deaths.  The first is when the body ceases to function.  The second is when the body is consigned to the grave.  The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time”

You may grow tired of me re-telling them, but Rick will not die the third death as long as I have the breath and memory left to tell them. Whether it is him trying to ride a horse full of beer bottles that ran away with him faster and faster due to the clanging and breaking of bottles, almost burning down the rainforest in a monsoon in the Olympics, sliding ass-over-tea-kettle hundreds of feet down and over a snowy cliff, blowing his face off with a barbecue, rescuing some broken and hypothermic climbers at the bottom of a crevasse on Mt Baker, holding each other’s lives in our hands from the end of a thin rope, or his ill-conceived practical jokes at work there is a lot of rich material.

I imagined we would be two old farts sitting around exchanging lies, sipping whiskey and smoking a bowl someday, with old El Tejano finally having some new stories to tell…tales that I haven’t been a part of or heard a hundred times in the almost 45 years I have known him, since meeting him so long ago in High School.

I don’t know how many of you have had such a close partner in crime for that long, but I hope yours lasts as well as ours did and longer.  I will so miss his traditional greeting of “shot and a beer?”.  His life was far too short, but I think old Ricky would still sing along with Jimmy B concerning his life and agree that “some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic, but I had a good life all of the way”.


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