Cruising along the flat, straight stretches of I-35 gave me plenty of time for a few reflections on the past seven weeks. I was remembering Franz’s preoccupation with his video camera (spent the whole weekend with his left eye shut), and began questioning the ever-increasing popularity of prerecording experiences to be “aired” later in life. Don’t get me wrong…I thoroughly enjoyed watching the replays of our escapades during Hot August Nights. But the video shouldn’t be the only means of recalling past times. We can’t prerecord our life to replay, because at the replay we are only spectators. The fulfillment comes from the participation, depositing the experiences in that God-given membrane known as a memory bank. The best memories are the ones that have been allowed to sustain themselves unencumbered by documentary proof. Memory transcends video, because it’s free and is highly susceptible to the vagaries of the mind…in other words, it doesn’t work very well. It’s like when I’m rendering a perspective, I use my artist license to move things around, when and where I want them to be. It doesn’t diminish the accuracy of the drawing, it only enhances it. Have you ever noticed when you’re thinking of something pleasant, you involuntarily smile? Well, ruminate over this little thought: if you smile when no one else is around, you really mean it. I had been smiling for quite a few miles.
I whizzed through Wichita, only to be confronted with a toll booth on the outskirts of town. It was either pay or pull off, and take U.S. 81 for free. What the heck, it was only fifty miles to the Oklahoma state line, so I opted for the remainder of the Kansas Turnpike. As I was getting my ticket, I asked the lady, “Haven’t you people got this turnpike paid for yet?” She quickly replied, “The state got all its money back. The pike is now under private ownership.” Well, what do you think about that? That was a new one on me. As I entered the Sooner State, I was reminded of the Texas chestnut: “The best thing to come out of Oklahoma is I-35.” By then, all I wanted was to light down somewhere near Oklahoma City for the night. Mercifully, there was a rest area just north of town. My final stop on the road, and what a relief it was to feel a coolness in the air…quite unusual considering it was mid-September. My luck had held out for one more night.
I treated myself to watching David Letterman on the black and white portable, sucking out the last power left in the rechargeable batteries. After that brief indulgence, I slipped in between the sheets, and gazed up at the haze. I found myself missing those impeccable clear nights back in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. There was also the noise pollution – the constant roar of the nearby freeway. I missed the solitude of the mountains, and it brought to mind that “listen” is the anagram of silent. I was remembering the sporadic sound of the wind whispering through the pines, and concluded that silence was not something that was there before the music of wind began, or after it had stopped. It was the quintessence of the euphonious breeze itself, the vital ingredient that made it possible for the “music” to exist at all. Gee-whiz, travel does have a way of stretching the mind.
The last day of the trip always seems to have an air of ambivalence – ready to get home, but sad to see the odyssey end. I stopped at a rest area near Next-to-Nothing, Oklahoma, and suddenly realized a hidden irony that I had overlooked: the mundane pit stop was devoid of any trash, while all the idyllic sites where I had camped were consumed with litter. Yes, just like last summer, I felt like I had cleaned up half of the West, especially at that beatific spot between Lochsa Lodge and Lolo Pass, where I must have spent two hours at grounds-keeping. That meant a lot of bending over, and then I thought, why not devise a “dive-bomber” (a pole with a nail embedded in one end) to alleviate the tediousness of picking up by hand. Ah-ha, another amenity to add to my road accoutrements. My thoughts turned back to my old highschool buddy, John Bracken, who earned his way through school at Texas Tech as a student-employee of the Horticultural Department. While his peers were pledging fraternities, John was “dive-bombing” the campus grounds with his spear and canvas bag slung over his shoulder. Now, he owns Nicholson-Hardie, the most prosperous and innovative nursery in Dallas…a real rags to riches story.
Again, I apologize for the digression, but I can’t help it sometimes. As I was crossing the Red River, I knew I was back home in Texas, the entomological capital of the country…it was a kamikaze of lepidoptera on the windshield that proved my theory. Well, to heck with the bugs, I just plowed through the malaise of I-35, LBJ, and North Central, finally ending my peregrination of 5,000 miles in front of my home base at Apt. 415. I intoned a short prayer to the Almighty, thanking Him for getting me home safely. Oh, and I threw in a little word for Blaine Boy, asking the Lord if He might help him hit a couple of jackpots on the slots. Yep, Bubba had indentured himself to the casinos in Laughlin for several weeks now, and probably for another couple of weeks at least. It had been fifty-one days since I had initiated the idea of caravanning out to Reno. Gosh, it seemed so long ago. I gave Ol’ Baleau an affectionate pat on the dash, as if to give a thank-you for another beautiful trip. Well, boys and girls, I’ll see you next summer. Adios.
William C. Early ã1998