Monday, January 20, 2014

Driving Mr. Barkley - The Faces and Memories of a Road

Mom,  that's like the third burger place you've passed up!
 
As the truck headed down south, into farmland, happy to be away from the thicker traffic, the snow was still piled high from the massive storm almost two weeks ago. The drifts looked so serene, waves tossed up against farm fence, but other signs told of the dangers that had been here, two cars still in ditches and the one jackknifed semi in the median, as well as spots where a Saturn  and a Smart Car shed their skin, bits of fiberglass and plastic strewn about, the rest of the remains removed in a bucket.
But we were even more happy to be past the outskirts of the city, that short stretch I must travel that makes me very anxious not to break down.  There's one stretch, where, but for the highway, and the knowing, you wouldn't know you were in a city.

There are the houses, some farm style, probably erected when this was just farms, fading and falling, some windows shuttered or broken, some still lived in, overgrown plots littered with the broken and the unused, buckets, tools, machines, things that once were crafted to serve a purpose of function or work, left to lie idle by those that either abandoned these places or live idle within.  Even the trees, bend down as if tired of making an effort, blossoming each year in the sullied impiety that is a once thriving place that dies through uncaring neglect, its burgeoning, nothing more a bitter and tenacious scrap of another season's memory, than a desire to grow and thrive.
It is with a sigh of relief, that I take that final dogleg south.  

This stretch of highway has been driven a hundred times, yet each drive I notice something different.  It's not the obvious, the giant "HELL IS REAL" sign (we're on I-65, we already know that) or the XXX Family Restaurant (sorry, when I think "XXX", family restaurant just doesn't spring to mind). Rather, it's an old barn, now razed, it's a river that's left its banks, it's a tiny little cross with a name by the side of the road.

I don't listen to books on tape for these drives. Sometimes, music plays, sometimes it is silent. Mostly, I keep my senses on the road, for this is a treacherous stretch of large trucks, often as inattentive as they are massive. Sometimes you have one in front and one behind and gaining, no place to go if the one in front decides to stop, the Bat Truck only the Oreo filling between several tons of steel, and I retreat to the slow lane, where I'll happily let teenagers give me that "look" as I do the speed limit.  I've driven this stretch often enough to know that the opposed forces of a semi's mass and my will, if drawn suddenly together, would be a meeting that could be irremediable.
Sometimes they give you a warning, before they try and kill you, a signal before they suddenly dart into your lane,  just feet in front of you, making you slam on your brakes, so they can pass the truck going .3 mph less than them. Usually though, danger is inarticulate, not knowing it's danger. So I listen as well as watch.

There are always the signs, fast food, gas stations, some bright shiny new, an Arby's and a Super 8 that's been a welcome respite from this road in bad weather for many people. There's a new McDonald's, advertising large clean restrooms (a welcome change from the ones further north where they have to lock them because someone might break in and clean them). Then there are old signs, weathered, leaning away from the wind.  Failed businesses dot the landscape, "Boom City", a faded but futuristic looking abandoned  fireworks place that stands in isolation in a landscape of cornfields. So out of place in a remote, rural area, it looks like some alien craft that just landed there and built itself a parking lot as they waited for the mother ship.
What is there to look at, some of you may be likely thinking?  It's Indiana, flattened out by giant glaciers millions of years ago.  It's flat, there's corn, that's about it.  But beauty can be like that, as subtle as a whisper, yet as strong as faith.  Beauty isn't always young, perfect skin, vast mountains or the vivid colors of velvets and fine gems.  Beauty is there, on an open road, in the sky, in a vast field of ripe corn,  in a church with a crucifix that likely came out here on a wagon, the serene and battered Christ upon it, transcending the marks of time and generations, a visage to which you can only lower your eyes in humility and ask forgiveness.

Yes it's flat, but there are roads that stretch and glisten like jewels  in hard rain flowing down as if to wash the landscape clean.  There are weathered homes and stubborn farms, there is a sudden rise to a river that has carried more than history to its silent end.  There are miles and miles of fields, with nothing but corn and fence rows, a barn and silo jutting up like one of those pop up greeting cards, set there, flat on the very edge of the earth's table. It's the windy sunlight of space and summer, a morning filled with bells, an afternoon filled with grace, it's the church of God's own creation, as farmers tend to its Host and our history.
As I drive and look, I think.  To the phone hopefully not ringing at 2 a.m., to the days ahead, to the days past as I see the Indianapolis 103 miles sign and realize I'm  more than halfway there and smile as I relax into the seat.

There's a time in every trip, no matter how long, where you settle into the drive.  As a family, and for my Dad, when we were kids, the driving on our vacation trips seemed almost effortless, as we watched the landscape change from green to brown to mountains and back to brown and we'd hear stories of his youth, of he and Mom growing up together in Montana, the radio off, the only music the sound of my Mom's relaxed laughter, a laughter I can still sometimes hear. For I hear her voice in mine. I'm told we sound alike, and there are days I can crack open the window and the warmth of the wind will blow in and around me, warming my cheeks and the back of my throat and as look up to a contrail that has caught my eye, our laughter will echo in the wide spaces ahead.
What I recall of those long ago trips, other than the laughter, was just sitting and looking out the windows for miles, for what was most memorable were the landscapes, stopping when we got tired or thirsty and actually looking and touching the wonders we'd read about in school. The Grand Coulee Dam, the drive through redwood tree. Then back in the car, with postcards and maybe a souvenir baseball hat. I saw mountains and tumbling landslides, and fish leaping against gravity up a ladder, and once even a buffalo, kept on a small piece of range on which resided a little restaurant.

I had never in my life been next to an animal that big. He was old, and completely tame, raised by the husband and wife with the restaurant, with a few acres to roam, and enough wild memory to twitch in running freedom in his dreams. I was afraid at first to approach him, almost blind in my fear, but I crept up, drawn by soft eyes the color of earth, and the warm flank. Judging by his breathing, the slow, patient release of air, that great steam engine of sound, I knew he would not hurt me and I reached out through the fence rails and touched the giant soft velvet bloom of nose  as he looked back with those knowing eyes,  set in ancient bones as enormous as the future, a countenance as powerful as history, as motionless as memory. And we stood there, together, a little auburn haired girl and that lone remnant of a past that's faded to nothing but dust and cornered thought, all alive, yet still alone.
But on this drive, all am thinking about is what I have in front of me, the tumbled landscapes of glacier stone and great pristine rivers, thin as a rope from the air. Anything that really requires my mind, the gas and engine instruments, a scan for traffic, occurs in brief, unhurried intervals as the truck carries me with it, all those memories and thoughts of past road trips, of tears, of childlike bursts of laughter, of family, mechanical, rhythmic memory of the past that I carry with me forward.

Everything that I  might worry about, whether the phone will wake me at 2 a.m., that case I have to finish, a washer that broke beyond repair and needs to be replaced, lies suspended for this time as the sun creeps back inside the earth, driving the shadows forth.
Open road, a dimension free of time and space that flows from childhood to the trembling, secret ardor of the future. It's a road little changed from a child's hand out the window in the breeze, to the older foot on the gas pedal of an old British car, on a Summer day,  pressing down, carrying with it the echo of childish want, the passion and unrest of adulthood. The road rushing under, rushing on. Way too quickly.

As we near where I will live during the work week, Barkley leans into me, as if recognizing what is going past the window, flowing smoothly from left to right, buildings and doorways, a small expanse of marsh, each in its ordered place, there in the dimming light. Perhaps he recognizes those things as we draw near. Either that or he is listening to something much further away then the small dimensioned vehicle we are riding in. Perhaps he only pretends to be listening, because in his heart, he already knows the sound.

I listen too, not just look, to the whoosh of the garage door, to the creak of a door, to the falling into a simple place with old Mission furniture, a framed photo on the shelf and a Cross on the wall, reminding me that I am all alive, but never alone.
 - Brigid

10 comments:

  1. Brigid, I have not revisited this part of history and Blind Man Bluff in several years. The cold war was a very important period in history and due to the exploits of your brother and others - we beat the Russians. Submariners like your brother have big “cajones” and deserve the thanks of all Americans. The next time you talk to “Big Bro” please relay my heartfelt thanks.

    One piece of information I recently ran across and found interesting: The tapping of the Soviet Naval cable was so secret that most Submariners involved did not have the Security Clearance needed to know about it.

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  2. Glad you and Barkley made the trip. We are supposed to get bad weather tomorrow but I haven't heard if it did anything out your way. The winter will end, really, some day in a few weeks it will start warming.

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  3. Every time I see a Smart car on the road, I think F=ma trumps mechanics of materials every time.

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  4. Best thing about driving is the forward movement. Going ahead, actually getting somewhere. The gypsy in me just loves it. I think it probably takes 10 years to go through Nebraska, though. Even the cows look bored there.

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  5. You've reminded me of all the times I took a See-Cruise with my best friend from university...some nights we just drove from Lawrence to Manhattan, or Emporia, to get a burger. Just because.

    I've always been 'the driver' I guess. From the days of the Funky Ford Granada, to my much loved Chevy Silverado, to the current Sienna van. I just enjoy the drive, almost as much as I enjoy the ride, when I get out on the bike.

    Give Barkely a hug for me.

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  6. We humans are meant to be travelers and story tellers; it is in our makeup. Thank you for showing us how it is done.

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  7. The journey is everything, the destination ... not always so much. But my mind's eye still thinks of highways as they were a few decades ago, rather than the congested arteries that a trebling of cars on the road have made them.

    Stay safe out there!

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  8. I've had attempts of truck tag on I-65, it is a PITA highway. When 80 tons meets 2 tons, the 2 tons usually loses. Which is why some truckers call cars speed-bumps. We have to take 65 north to get to Louisville on our monthly trips to Whole Foods.
    And buffalo are majestic aren't they? If I had 160 acres instead of 16, and money enough for serious fencing, I might be tempted to add a few to the menagerie in our little oasis. But those big boys can treat cattle fence like string and they do need room to roam. Still, I can dream.
    Take care,
    Ex-nuke

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  9. Richard - I will indeed tell him that, he and Dad are my personal heroes.

    Sunnybrook Farm - glad I came in early, when I did have to go in, it was in the minus numbers with more heavy snow and sleet coming down.

    Eric - indeed, I like sitting up high in my truck though I've seen how well a full size pickup fares between two trucks and it is NOT good. But at least it gives me some help with seeing trouble ahead and behind.

    naturegirl - I drove out West, even though it took several days, a few short years back for an extended stay after Dad has his stroke and I took leave without pay to care for him for that first month or two. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive.

    Monkeywrangler - I know Lawrence well, I stop there to sleep when I drive to Colorado to visit Brigid Jr. I like Kansas, there's something about the plains like that, that draw me, though I'll retire where I am.

    Richard - thank you for understanding and appreciating these little things we do.

    Rev Paul - there are still some highways like that, unfortunately not the ones I travel often.

    james - I hate it. I have two alternate routes that take an extra 40 minutes, but safe stops for potty breaks for Barkley and I are tough to find, so we just cope. I'm able, when I've a big bit of case work to write up, to telework a week or so a month, which helps.

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  10. Brigid, most of my co-workers commute to Louisville using I-65. Came to Ft. Knox as a part of BRAC in 2010. Having spent years commuting into DC, I resolved to buy a small homestead a lot closer to work. Its a work in progress, but it keeps me sane (except when arctic air stops me from working on the new barn). Once I exit the base, it is 10 miles of side roads with little traffic. Only thing within 5 miles of my place are farms. We all have to do what we have to do to make a living. BRAC allowed me to ditch a killer commute, but son and his family are in the DC area. Win some, lose some.
    Hope your drive back is as pleasant as it can be.

    Ex-nuke

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