ON HE RODE — Chapter Six

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.

The End?

Talk story

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