Saturday, July 30, 2011

When Things Go To Hell In a Hand Basket...

My Ford Ranger 4 wheel drive truck has faithfully carried me over 238,000 miles since I purchased it new in 2001. That is the average distance from the earth to the moon. The first year, my son and I drove to the Medicine Wheel in Wyoming. We met my adopted sister, my nephew, and another friend in the Big Horn mountains. We camped the night before my sister held a Pipe ceremony in the Wheel. People from all over the world were there on the mountain for the summer solstice. Needing a fourth woman for her ceremony, my sister asked one of the women we met to participate. Afterward, I gave my tobacco bag to the woman. She was leaving for India as soon as she came down the mountain, and I have often thought of my tobacco pouch traveling the world in the company of that extraordinary woman.

My son and I later went to Bear Butte in South Dakota. From high on the Butte, I watched my 15 year old son drive the truck down the steep hill to wait for me. I held my breath as he carefully navigated the winding, narrow road. He also drove it up the hill to pick me up. I think he was as relieved as I was when I got behind the wheel again. He did a fine job, though. I knew he would.

I have driven thousands of miles taking my son to football practice, baseball practice, basketball practice, track practice, and all of his games located across several counties for the seven years he played school sports. Twice he went to State for track and I drove that truck to watch him compete as one of the best of Kansas high school athletes. His basketball team went to State his senior year, and I drove the truck to all three of those State games as his team worked their way through the brackets to the championship game.

I drove the truck to visit my mother. My son and I drove it away from the hospital the day she died. I have driven that truck to many funerals, and spent many hours remembering those who died as I grieved in the privacy of the long miles coming home.

I moved my son to college, his things packed safely in the bed of the truck, then cried all the way home - some tears of relief that he and I made it that far, but mostly for the part of our lives that had come to a close. He had flown the nest and that boy would never be back. A man I would hardly know would visit in the future.

I have picked up and dropped off my daughter at the international airport during her world travels. Her well-traveled cats have often been in my truck, including a 3 am drive to KCI to ship them to her in Hawaii.

We have crammed a lot of people into the cab of that truck, including my son's girlfriend and three of her friends for a tournament my son was competing in. All four teenagers talked at once and nonstop, all the way there and all the way back, while continually texting. I was amazed at their energy and their adroit multitasking brains! We were packed in like sardines but they did not seem to notice and they certainly did not mind. They were such good kids. I enjoyed that trip a lot.

Now the only time we cram into the cab is for garbage runs to the landfill in Pott. County. I drive 40 miles round trip once every six weeks, haul my garbage and my daughter's, and spend $6 at the gate. Compare that to more than $50 apiece for trash pick up once a month! My daughter and her beau and I cram into the cab. We all love taking the trash run. I do not understand why, but it is always fun and no one wants to miss it.

I have put the most miles on the truck driving it to and from work, listening to my favorite music and thinking. Sometimes I worry, but most often I contemplate the meaning of my life as the miles roll away.

It has been a very good truck. The only repairs it has ever needed have been caused directly and indirectly by rodents chewing the wiring. I cannot guess how many tires have been sacrificed in the ten years I have traveled the flint rock county roads - dozens. (That is what Road Hazard Insurance is for, baby!) But, like all things, the little red truck is beginning to fall apart. Stuff has stopped working. Broke. Quit. No emergency brake. The fog lights do not turn on. The tailgate is permanently closed because the handle broke entirely off. The air conditioning gave out this summer just before the Kansas summer turned into the desert hell winds of the Sahara. Friday was the final straw: the driver's outside door handle broke. I have to crawl in from the passenger side, open the door, then walk back to the driver's side to haul my old creaking self behind the wheel.

I have spent over ten years on a trip to the moon without ever leaving the pavement - all of it in climate controlled comfort, and most of that time in the company of Bob Dylan and ghosts. I have hauled hundreds of pounds of animal feed, hay, dog food, groceries, furniture, trash, horse manure - even the gate to Ginger's pasture. Without fail, that truck has started each and every time I have turned the key, and I have gone wherever I needed to go. Often, I have marveled at the sophisticated engineering and world class manufacturing that produced such dependable personal transportation.

Ol' Red will not be traded away. She will remain the trusty farm truck and my sure-fire transportation to work in the winter. Soon, I must buy another car - something with much better gas mileage and ice cold air conditioning. Something brand new from those Ford engineers and highly trained American union auto workers. I cannot say I am looking forward to it. No matter what, there will be no football games, no Medicine Wheel, no sister, no teenagers, no handsome high school boy, no ghosts riding along in the new vehicle. It will have to be filled with unexpected and unknown spirits over the miles and into time.

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