There are evenings when you can actually smell Spring approaching. A damp chill cut with the aroma of vegetation returning to life, fattening buds, and a promise of warmer weather. The light’s longer, too, and I’m getting antsy.
For reasons I can still not explain, I am still fascinated with the idea of finding an old 1950s pickup, red paint faded from half a century in the sun, rust spots here and there, a heat-cracked dashboard and a hard, plastic steering wheel. I don’t care if the seats are ripped; in fact, it’s better if they are. Luxury isn’t savory, at any rate.
With pickup truck acquired, I will don my straw hat, blue jeans, and white t-shirt, and continue seeing the country I only began to explore on a motorcycle last year. I will tune the old-fashioned radio to some tinny station in the middle of a Kansas cornfield and hope that Roy Rogers, Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline are the only music they play. Maybe Glen Miller in the evenings.
There’s much more yet to see, really. There are people that need knowing. I want to meet the older lady that’s won the county fair pie-baking contest for the last ten years. I want to taste her baked goods. I want to talk to the farmer, dip spit running dribbled from his deep-creased chin. The man who knows a hell of a lot about roping cattle and doesn’t give a damn about much else. It’s his, huge, arthritic hand that I want to shake, too.
Rodeo season starts in the spring, bringing with it huge crowds of talented, enthusiastic young men and women who have found sport even in the most mundane of agricultural activities. The kids that paid for their saddles by working long, summer hours getting laid less than their worth. Kids who know what a western saddle is actually for.
There are deep south churches to see, where every Sunday the richest singing pushes through their sanctuary walls and courses enticingly down the street in both directions. Where, in unconditioned buildings, they suffer the oppressive heat in their Sunday best and fan themselves with bulletins and shush whomever’s kid is making a ruckus beside them. I’d like to share their joy with them.
And then, having met but a few here and there, had a hundred “Betties” serve me a hundred burgers in a hundred different small towns, I will get back in the old truck, throw my bag in the truck bed, and take off at sunset, underneath clouds threatening a brief spring rain. I will ride with the window down and feel the tinge of cold still in the air and listen to old music, and roll my own cigarettes and beat out the rhythm on the wheel as night falls and I find a place to sleep.
There on those roads, in small dales between huge ridges, nestled in hills, at arbitrary points in the middle of miles of corn, I will see the small town parade with the fire trucks and the Shriners, the local mayor and the local beauty queen. I will photograph the kids playing in the open fire hydrant and streets lined with US flags, and happy faces regaled with July 4th fireworks displays. I will pause in respectful silence at the memorials each town has – honoring the oft-disproportionate number of men their community has sacrificed in the protection of liberty. I will remember how thankful I am that I’m here to enjoy it, and live life to the fullest on their behalf and in their honor.
I will get lost a lot and not care where I wind up. I will find an old filling station where an old man with a rag in his back pocket emerges from under an equally old car and pumps my gas for me while talking about the weather. I want to meet Americans – the true salt of the earth. Who never had an interest in the busy life of cities, and are content to have smaller lives with richer relationships. Who grow old with their spouses and watch their children have a few of their own. I will see a real rotary phone, and meet a lady with horn rimmed glasses, and talk with a man who castrates his hogs by hand, and help the local guys who’ve tossed hay bales in the sun for days, and get a sunburn on my neck in payment. I will drink Coke from a glass bottle, and somehow it will taste better.
There was a pretty girl in a dream the other night - with smooth skin, dark eyes and long hair. She wasn't happy, she told me, as she leaned against the fence railing. She didn't much like it where she was. I invited her to travel with me and we left soon thereafter. I haven't met her yet, but I'd like to...
Spring is coming soon, and I can’t wait. The adventuring bug is afflicting me, and it needs satisfaction. I want to travel the back roads in an old pickup. I want to see America. I want to MEET America, too, and I want you to come with me.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
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