ON HE RODE — Chapter Six
This is NOT a contest entry
I’m headed south on this fading afternoon of my very first, quite
eventful, day on the road. I’ve travelled a couple hundred miles, seen
some country, got a haircut, probably destroyed my cherry Chevy. Maybe
the smartest thing I could do right now is to find the quickest way
back to I-5 and head north to Hood Canal. With a bit of luck, I might
get there before Whitey and Carrie’s bedtime: What a surprise! Didn’t
expect you back so soon! Too hot out there for you? D’ja get homesick?
That is, if I’m lucky enough to make it back. Who knows how long this
star-crossed old jalopy will even be a car? Best keep heading downhill
— south. If she breaks down on the Coast, I can always catch the
train. How long do you think she’ll keep going, regardless of what
direction I point her? Guess we’ll find out.
Besides the Blitz and the bonfire, I left behind my wedge of Tillamook
cheddar. These days people think cheese when they hear Tillamook. A
few might think valley. In Whitey’s day, they thought burn.
The Tillamook Burn, in 1933, was one of the biggest, costliest forest
fires on record. Miles and miles of blackened old-growth Doug fir.
Initially abandoned and written off as a total loss, the economics of
approaching war made it once again viable. The Weyerhaeusers and
Simpsons of the world entered the lumber salvaging business about that
time, recruiting hundreds of strong-bodied desperate young men like
Whitey to do their very dirty but for them lucrative reclaiming of
wood once considered lost. Turned out there were a lot of usable logs
just waiting for harvest.
The worst part was working in the ash that turned to boot-eating lye
in the perpetual Oregon Mist. To waterproof and lye-proof their
all-important footwear, loggers waded in troughs of hot used crankcase
oil, mineral oil that itself destroyed boot leather, but not as fast
as lye. Whitey does not recall those days with fondness, but he’s
proud to have endured. Working in the shipyard for the Feds looked
danged good after that.
As a kid, just about everybody I knew had some connection to the
shipyard. Wanna hear something funny? Pinch the tip of your tongue
between your thumb and forefingers and say, “My father works in the
shipyard!” loud and slow. Yell “ship” when you come to it.
Whatever, it pays the bills and supports a decent life for those who
maintain our country’s defense system. Important work, often
pride-filled work. Nuclear subs and carriers. Complex, beautifully
executed wonders of nautical technology, lethal means to deadly ends.
Protectors. Destroyers. Does anybody still think this can end well? We
can hope. Pray?
My car still runs, the shadows stretch longer, and campfire smoke
perfumes the air. I’m driving through an enclave of campout spots and
resting places. State and private parks. Dune buggy runs. More
campfires. It’s a beehive of vacationing families and collections of
friends. Airstreams. Winnebagos. Yelling, shouting. Guffawing. Really.
Guffawing. Not accommodating to silent, solitary, baldheaded old
geezers like myself.
Since I don’t see myself fitting in any better on a campground than I
do on the highway, I head for the other side, mauka, away from the
sea. Hawaiian, of course. Maka’i means toward the sea, the side all
the campers are on. Your Hawaiian words for the day.
Picking a random logging road, I follow a gradual incline that feels
like it could end up in a cleared alder glade with a rippling brook
and an accommodating woods sylph to croon and strum my Stella to. By
starlight, of course. Heavenly shades of night won’t be falling for a
while yet, but best prepare.
The road is solid-looking but seldom-used, just wide enough to pass
with young alder branches brushing both sides and alder saplings
scraping the bottom. Might have to reverse out in the morning. Don’t
go in too deep. Another hundred yards in I find a small, abandoned
landing that opens up and welcomes me.
Campfires have been built here, tents pitched, stories told, songs
sung. Maybe. Not tonight though. I wish my radio worked. There’ll be
no lonely campfire, no soft blues harp, no Stella strummed, no woods
sylph. Really kinda spooky. A radio would be good company. There’ll be
no radio. Light Whitey’s Coleman lamp? No. Not tonight.
It only makes sense to take advantage of the closing darkness to go to
bed, get a good night’s sleep, etc. Besides, I’m curious to try my
clever sleeping accommodation, the Goodwill mattress extending from
inside the trunk and butting against the front seat. I’ve taken out
the rear seatback and crossmember. She will not be strong in a
And she does not prove accommodating as a place of repose. In pretty
quick order, claustrophobia turns to dark feelings of vulnerability
and fear. I’ve got to piss, but it’s like I’m pinned inside a guess
what? If you guess coffin, you win. If you guess womb, you also win.
It can go either way.
I finally manage to crawl over the front seat and out the door into
the dark woods and take my piss. Then I get back inside, lock the
doors, crack the windows a half-inch, and spend the night wondering
how the hell I’ve managed to get myself stuck here.
My conclusion: Carrie’s fault. My own mother, by the very act of
becoming my mother and determining to be the best mom she could
possibly be, has condemned me to a life of perpetual aspiration and
frustration. She could not have chosen a more devious path had she
planned to. She did not, but the harm was done.
Beginning when I was very young, like two years old, Carrie actually
read to me. Worse, she chose books I liked and read them with animated
expression. Of course I got addicted and ended up where? Right here.