ON HE RODE — Chapter Twenty-One

“Ubiquity,” on the other hand, has no definable history with me. I don’t know where I learned it or where I’d ever use it. Omnipresence, I guess. Everywhere at once. God-like. Ubiquitous.

In the presumed natural order of things, all things are perpetually connected into one universal entity of which everything is a contributing part. Order and continuity are maintained by the complex interaction of all its parts, and our contribution to its success exists in direct proportion to our acceptance of guided authority in the performance of the roles we are given. And the role I have been given is . . , is what?

And by Whom has it been given? And what guidance does He (or She) provide? And what resources? Is my quest — my assignment — any different from anyone else’s? Should we all work together or pursue our own selfish goals? Or a bit of both? Are You Just One Enormous Entity made up of countless material and spiritual parts including — spinning blue marble on course for some dark infinity still unknown to us — us?

So let’s give it a shot. How far can I get on this almost literal wing and a prayer? Wigging out on a wing and a prayer? By my own personal edict, this seriously compromised vehicle will not be serviced by a garage professional. No frigging way. Instead, I will quietly pray to God Almighty through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, that this same vehicle will continue to convey me safely and reliably all the way across North America and back. Of course I’ll add gas, oil, and water as needed.

And of course I’ll take added pains to live, not a godly life, exactly, but a life that demonstrates that if I could be convinced of God’s existence, I could learn to be His asset. Like, here’s Your chance, God. You want me on Your side? Show me Your stuff.

In the meantime, I will strive to be courteous, kind, and helpful as the most conscientious Boy Scout. I will not steal, kill, curse, or covet. Will not forget the Sabbath Day. Will not attempt to procure weed. Will procure calamine lotion.

Will head eastward in some sort of circuitous fashion toward and halfway through the State of Texas, the Lord willing. This time that expression might actually mean something.

Yo, heading east on what the map seems to indicate are well-maintained but not overcrowded thoroughfares tending my way. Let’s see, there’s wine country and deserts and Vegas and Lake Mead and The Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns — you-name-it-you-got-it. The whole Southwest is there for me to improvise upon, O Lord, and I trust You and Your Holy Wisdom to be my Unerring Guide. Am I laying it on a bit thick? Cross out “Unerring”. Even God must err now and again, and I’m sure He’s Man (or Woman) enough to admit it.

(By the way, how do you pronounce “err”? You should say “uhr”, not “air”. Trust me, I’m an English teacher.)

Back in the days when I made plans, one of the ways I planned to confront the grim reality of a public school teacher’s minimalist salary was to become as materialistically conservative as I was philosophically liberal. The idea was that if we gradually collected just nice stuff that we really liked and took good care of it, our lives would be enriched beyond the restrictions of mere money. We’d be like the Amish, only with a later start.

For example, an early-fifties Chevy was only a few short decades removed from your basic horse and buggy. We’d be embracing a quieter, more gracious time, perpetuating the considered wisdom that made civilization possible. Eventually we’d save enough for a down payment on a modest country home on an acre of garden-friendly property. Not much different from Whitey and Carrie: Work hard. Raise a family. Keep the ball rolling, so to speak.

On November 22, 1963, I’d come home early, like everybody else at school. It was an unusually sunny day for that time of year, and I was taking advantage of it to do a thorough cleaning of my new streamlined baby, my absolutely cherry ’51 Chevy, whose radio kept me updated on the news from Dallas. I will not say that that news changed everything, but it sort of made you wonder, put you on the alert. Got your attention and then some.

From our rented, imitation-brick shotgun house in South Seattle, you could look west across I-5, railroad tracks, and Empire Way to Boeing Field and the Olympic Mountains. With one stroke what had seemed permanent and mundane now seemed seriously precious and fragile. Polishing my car might be the ultimate denial of a reality over which I had no control. Look here, Walter Cronkite, that Lincoln in Dallas, the one with the cranial tissue and other organic matter decorating its back seat, is totally irrelevant to me and my life. That Irishman from Boston, as much as I admired him I didn’t know him and he did not know me. So nothing has changed.

Touch the damp chamois in broad swipes over the whole car and stand back to admire. My perfect family would live perfect lives going from place to place in this perfectly maintained beautiful example of mid-century automotive manufacture.

But it has not worked out quite that neatly, and here I am picking up the pieces, as it were. But pieces of what? And where to find them?

Everybody has committed foxhole religion at one time or another. God, if You’ll get me out of this mess I swear I’ll believe in You and pray to You and go to church every Sunday and eat lime jello at church picnics with no complaints. Yeah. Well, I won’t make any rash promises, but if You will keep this car running I’ll know You’re beside me, helping me. You won’t be sorry. Believe Thee me.

Talk story

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