While driving this weekend, preoccupied with delivering one passenger swiftly and retreating for a nap after more than five, wearying hours on the road, I was pleasantly surprised with what I observed on a random roadside on the way to one of my destinations. There, in the perimeter of the front yard of what looked like an abandoned house, lay the truck I wrote about in “Spring, Come She Will.” On the way back through, I stopped for a photograph with my cell phone camera. It far exceeded my expectations.
It immediately reminded me of a writing that though only recently posted, seemed a distant memory. Hope fades quickly when confronted with stagnation. But in an instant, I was simultaneously sent back and propelled forward to a place I have dearly missed of late. A place where ambition hasn’t expired beneath the weight of infinite resignation. Where hope is still alive, and freedom isn’t schedule and financial flexibility, but the audacity to pursue great dreams.
All at once I was on the road again, but this time in a real, rough-idling Ford F100, and one no longer merely a figment of my imagination. While I possess neither the $17,000 for a 1952 Ford pickup nor the similarly large figure no doubt necessary to fuel it and replace obscure parts, something once dwelling solely in fantasy drew a monumental step closer to reality. Such a truck, such an inefficient but undeniably memorable means of transportation truly exists. Hope, therefore, still exists.
As does the whitewashed church with the choir in their long gowns whose singing pushes effortlessly though the weak, clapboard walls and echoes down the country road. The laughter of their children, running beneath the live oaks as their grandparents sit in lawn chairs and discuss their gardens and how this year will be a particularly good one for the tomatoes and peppers if the rain keeps up like it has been. And as a thick fog sets in, and the humidity rises in a way that always precedes a late spring thunderstorm, I will wish them and their gardens the very best and drive westward. As I drive late into the evening, the open windows occasionally blow in rain droplets and put an appealing chill in the air. Johnny Cash will warm the cab, though. "Love," he insists, "is a burnin’ thing."
To the west, through endless miles of fence rows and more miles of sparser vegetation, leaner cattle and drier air, there is an old farmer whom I haven’t yet met, who patiently waits for poverty to overtake his operation and land him and his wife in a small flat on the outskirts of a city they’ve spent their whole lives avoiding. Their children, long grown and tired of the stories about “the good old days,” never visit much anymore. But it’s all new to me, and I’ll listen to their tales and enjoy the cakes his wife makes, and strive to retell as best I can the memories of an aging, disappearing generation. We owe them that much; an era of men and women whose now-arthritic fingers sustained this nation through her darkest hour, yet whose children have forgotten to be thankful. We would be wise to preserve their legacy of self-sacrifice, of stubbornness and resolve. They ensured half a century of our abundance.
There are deserts to cross in blistering heat and blinding sunlight, where military scientists birthed the greatest of our fears and the mightiest of our comforts in a single test event. There are sunsets amid the dunes, and cacti silhouetted against a sky alive with late-evening color. There is beauty in minimalism, and newfound appreciation of such small blessings as a few, life-giving drops of rain. Whole civilizations rose here and fell in obscurity, leaving us to marvel at their tenacity, their odd creativity, and a few despondent ruins unscathed by a millennium of unforgiving heat. Hank Williams, Sr. enables the long, light drives into the distant Rockies.
There is a rocky surf to see again, and coastlines with tall grasses and elephant seals, and enthusiastic surfers in wetsuits out every Saturday morning at 7AM to catch the tide at its best. Some are still hung over, which makes our conversations all the more endearing.
There are other people still to meet. Park rangers that graduated at the tops of their classes in college, exhausted with all the hustle and emptiness of careerism and the pursuit of money, who are content to tend the trails and survive on interesting conversations with a handful of through-hikers. There are the downtrodden, or at least the downcast, who are amazed when you linger a few unnecessary minutes at the checkout counter and actually listen to their stories. Nobody was curious about them before, but it is a gift they will long remember.
There’s still the pretty girl, too; the one from my dreams with the long hair and the dark eyes. There is no search for her, but a contented journey until she’s found. She’s out there somewhere. And there are other places; scores of diners with greasy food and smudged silverware, and crowds of colorful, early morning characters discussing the oddest of subjects over the strongest of coffee; and they will be cordial. They will welcome strangers, because there’s a beautiful red truck in the parking lot, not a pretentious luxury car.
For, more than a conversation piece and a flash of antiquity to draw the eye, the red truck conveys a bold and heartfelt message: “I’m not in a hurry, here. I’m not driving somewhere; I’m journeying. This vehicle isn’t fast, or efficient, nor even reliable, but I still like it. I always welcome good cause to stop. And so long as there’s room for your bags, and if you don’t mind driving an old three-speed, 100 horsepower clunker with foot-operated windshield wipers, and stopping at every gas station and probably occasionally pushing, there’s certainly room for you. In fact, without you, this journey is in vain.”
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
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