ON HE RODE — Chapter Thirty-One (a very rough first draft)

It’s becoming a bit obvious that I need to talk to somebody — anybody will do, anybody who will deign to put up with the likes of me. The radio might tide me over, if I could get it perking, but even at full volume there’s not a hint of static. Maybe I should get a pocketful of change and find a phone booth? Long distance is always a pain, but maybe a few words with Whitey and Carrie? Or my old pal Evers? Or, since it’s long-distance anyway, how about the folks we left minding the farm on Oahu’s Leeward Coast? How’s that agricultural project coming along? Yeah, well, we’ll see.

Wouldn’t it be great to have Dick Tracy two-way wrist radios? You want to talk to somebody, anybody, anywhere in the world, you just roll up your sleeve and talk. That is, if they have a two-way wrist radio too. Why not? Why wouldn’t everybody have one? It would make life a lot simpler, so much easier in a lot of ways that I can see people getting addicted, never wanting to be without their two-way wrist radio.

But you’d have to shorten its name, maybe just call it a two-way. Or maybe just call it a call phone, or just a call, so when you say “Call me,” it refers not only to the function but to the instrument performing the function, as in “I didn’t get your call because I wasn’t wearing my call.” But of course that would never happen because you would always wear your call so you wouldn’t miss any important calls. When you think about it, a two-way wrist radio might not be such a good idea. Why would anybody want to be always on call? Oh well, fat chance of it ever happening.

I get distracted by a Chevy Suburban heading my way towing what appears to be a lopsided boat trailer and a sorta sideways boat. When it gets closer I see the trailer has lost a wheel and what’s left of the axle is kicking up sparks and dust as the driver barrels unaware, full speed ahead. By the time I’ve got the picture we’ve already passed so I can’t blink my lights or wave my arms.

Duh, I know. I’ll give him a call on his call and let him know he’s got a problem. But, oopsy, what’s his number? And, gosh, look at my bare left arm. It seems I’ve forgotten got strap on my call. Oh well, too late now. Hope the guy in the truck figures things out and stops before he does any more damage. Should I turn around and see if he needs help? Probably I should, but I don’t.

What do I do? I pray. It sounds silly, I know, but it seems the least I can do. Or is it the most I can do? After  all, what’s bigger and more powerful than The Man Upstairs? “Lord, please be with him. Amen.” There. That should fix things.

The highway is a flat two lanes of well-maintained asphalt, piece-of-cake cruising at an easy 55 mph even in my old junker, which, let’s face it, is what I am driving. Traffic is sparse in both directions and everybody’s blasting past at least twenty miles an hour faster than me towards some destination different from mine. It’s like I’m an alien, not from outer space, but from a distinctly different time and place, a time and place that never existed outside my simple brain. Can they even see me?

My mitts are at five minutes to two on the steering wheel, smaller replicas of Whitey’s work-hardened and proudly maintained laborer’s hands. So, if my own carelessly maintained appendages reveal a disdain for hard manual effort, that could mean I value my mental faculties, take pride in them, and devote serious effort to keeping them clear and sharp. Couldn’t it? Next question?

Here’s one: What makes kids love caves? There were no natural caves anywhere near our rural neighborhood, so we took it upon ourselves to dig some. Our best would barely hold five kids and was accessed only by crawling through the narrowest of narrow tunnels. It was eerie packed underground like that with only a dimly faltering flashlight showing each other the fear in the eyes that were looking back at us. Nobody wanted to be the last one to crawl out, and once out we didn’t go back in. Ever. The next time we checked it out, our cave was a sunken, mud-filled mire. Even the entrance tunnel had caved in. Nobody said, “What if we’d been in there?” Nobody suggested rebuilding. Our Alley Oop days were over.

But now here I am at the mouth of Carlsbad Caverns, a little surprised by the awed, almost reverential feeling I share with fellow spelunkers-to-be. Conversations are nervously subdued. It’s like we’re crossing the Equator or the Arctic Circle. The Rubicon? More than that. We’re going Under.

It’s nothing like reading about Tom Sawyer’s cave or digging your own personal underground chamber. It lacks the sense of unique discovery, surprise, danger. We are guided in supervised groups along carefully constructed wooden walkways permitting no individual exploration of beckoning out-of-the-way pathways or tunnels.

But what it lacks in spontaneous adventure it more than makes up for in authenticity. There is only one Carlsbad Caverns, people come from all over the world be be collectively entombed here, and I find myself happy to be one of them. It is the first time since departing Hood Canal that I’ve felt a part of any group. A silent current flows around us and through us. Strongly palpable to us, we acknowledge its existence through respectful gesture and facial expression, its reverential tone punctuated now and then by whoops, shouts, and howls of echoing exploration.

I enjoy pompous overwriting like that last sentence, but sometimes a sentence like that can be a conversation ender. Which might not be a bad thing if you find yourself locked into a social interchange which neither party enjoys or knows how to disengage from until one of you suddenly recalls a critical errand that must be run right now or you both have the good sense to simply acknowledge that you don’t have to always be talking to be friends. In fact, just the opposite. My Carlsbad Caverns visit proved that.

Mahalo for reading!

Talk story

  1. Darrell Lum says:

    If this is a rough draft, I’m impressed. As I’ve been following along, but have a bad memory, would you consider a brief synopsis of the chapters? If not all of them, the last few so that we don’t have to search and get the continuing narrative.

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