ON HE RODE: Chapter Five
This is NOT a contest entry.
A small-town SAFEWAY invites me in for Dutch-lunch picnic supplies —
Blitz Weinhard beer, Tillamook cheddar, saltine crackers. I fall in
love with the checkout gamin’s tan, competent-looking hands. Should I
be jokey? How does she like my new beard? When she says what beard,
I’ll say the one I just started. “Eighteen, nineteen, and twenty,” she
Outside, I check my reflection in the store windows and try to imagine
weeks down the road, a mature Comrade Nikolai Lenin beard. Bolshevik
Back when Whitey came home with his first tidy flat-top after a
lifetime of fighting the pesky cowlick that adapted immediately into
the perfect haircut, family and friends were stunned. Should’ve done
it years earlier. Likewise, the Lenin bob — with or without beard —
could be perfect for me. Bob’s your uncle? We’ll see if he’s mine.
Before me lie the most gorgeous, totally drivable miles of packed sand
shoreline you can imagine, and, imagine, I’m the only one on it.
Toward the farther reaches of packed sand I find the ideal
configuration of old-growth cedar logs fronting crested dunes, the
perfect beachfront sound studio. Driftwood to nurture a cheerful
campfire. Snug. Homey. Wish I had weed, but oh well. Blitz Weinhard
My vintage Stella guitar requires a few tuning tweaks and is good to
go. Let’s try “House of the Rising Sun” in imitation of Bob’s-my-hero
Dylan. Pretty shabby at first, but a few reps and several cold Blitzes
later I’m crooning and strumming, the ocean my steady metronome of
I also compose introductions to and critical assessments of the same
performance: A deeply romantic personification of naive angst, of
feeling good about feeling bad, on offer to audiences of near-adults
of all ages. It seems well within reach of my modest talents, if . . .
Sun lights up a clear blue sky, the wind blows softly cool. Blitz
keeps me a man of the world, adapting to my environment in the muzzily
adroit manner of drunkards everywhere. A less open-minded person might
. . . Who do I kid? Whom? Tons of people are more open-minded and
experienced than me — writers, painters, musicians, railway bums,
artists of all stripes. I’ll tag along and learn by doing. Watch out
for me once I get going, whenever that might be.
Whoa! That’d better be now, the tide rising, my spirits failing. If I
don’t get out right now, I won’t. Ever.
It’s a cavelike pocket of sand, stumps, and rotting old-growth logs.
The tallest dune on the beach is cut off by a wide, quickly deepening
channel of angry incoming tide, no bridges, no shallows. One spot
looks broad enough to be shallow enough, barely. Forget the campfire
and the Blitz half-box, just snap Stella in her case and toss her in.
The engine fires off, and I head for the spot that might be shallow
enough, for now.
In first gear we nose warily into the channel, my stomach sinking,
tires slogging through deepening slurry, water seeping under the
doors, floor mats darkening with ocean brine, exhaust system submerged
in eery aquatic silence. This fragile forward movement cannot last,
but just as power ebbs and progress almost stops, the hood ornament
begins angling upward. We’re gonna make it! We really are! Up . . .
and . . . safe. For now.
Got to keep her moving until she’s banging on all six cylinders. Hope
her oil is not salty and her engine dries without burning. Without
stopping, I gauge Hwy. 101 traffic and limp steaming into the
southbound lane. Do the brakes work? Hm? Better just keep chunking
Pissed-off vacationers honk their horns, shake their fists, and yell
insults as they pass . . . if they can find a place to pass. I’d
gladly pull over and let them by, but it’s too risky.
Finally, all six cylinders firing more or less regularly, I speed up
to almost-normal until I find a place on a hill wide enough to stop,
with a kick-start option if her starter won’t start her.
Nice spot. Good viewpoint and I’m still drunk enough to enjoy it. Gets
even nicer once the line of campers clears and people stop yelling at
me. Kid-filled station wagons tow Winnebago or Airstream trailers with
wired-on bumper signs: SEA LION CAVES. TREES OF MYSTERY.
Really, folks, I’m improving your vacation, not spoiling it. You’ll
talk about me with pleasure this winter:
“You wouldn’t believe this ol’ baldheaded geezer in his rundown ol’ Dodge.”
“Wan’t no Dodge.”
“Wha’ was it then?”
“A ol’ Pontiac — ’49 or ’50, ‘round there.”
“Wan’t no Pontiac. Didn’t have no stripes down the trunk.”
“Jus’ some ol’ car, some ol’ baldheaded geezer in a ol’ beater.”
You know, the stories people tell about their time way out there on
that wild Oregon Coast.
I turn her off, pop the hood. A bit damp inside, little iridescent
puddles, rounded beads. Overall, though, pretty normal-looking. Let
her cool off, check her out. I’ll sit here on this warm rock and gaze
towards Hawaii, Japan, Korea, China. Out there. Wish I had a cold
The radiator’s full of normal-looking coolant and the distributor
seems dry. Then I pull the oil dipstick. You know milk vomit — kind of
dotted violet-grey? Frog puke?
Not good, but I have that case of SHELL X-100. How to deal with the
used oil — no drain pan, no containers. Why not just drain it and park
over it until it’s absorbed? Me, a dedicated Friend of the Earth,
sworn to keep our roadsides pristine? Ee-yah.
Drop the hood, get in, push the starter. Sluggish growl, no fire. We
roll down the hill, find second, pop the clutch. She pops, all right.
Snorts, farts, eventually glides to a steady third-gear. and we cruise
the Coast, me’n my car-car. Hey-hey, Woody Guthrie! Beep-beep um