The Hopi Are Onto Me

Dear Will:

I look up, and justlikethat, June has disappeared. That’s what happens when you cram two separate family vacations into a single month. In case you’re wondering, I don’t recommend it.

We spent a week in Virginia, visiting the old historical sites of Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. Then for good measure, we spent three days in Washington D.C. I felt like those pioneer children we sang about as kids: We walked and walked and walked and walked. For much of our visit the temperature was in the 90s with humidity to match. You won’t be surprised to hear that after 10 days of historical ruminations, Seth (my nine-year-old) declared that his favorite part of the trip was the day we spent at the water park.  Since it was over 100 that day, I can’t say that I’m surprised.

As for me, I especially enjoyed Yorktown and visiting the monuments and Arlington National  Cemetery. I found myself feeling very quiet on that hallowed ground. It’s nice to be reminded of what is possible when good people live up to high ideals. It made me want to be a better person. This was also my first chance to see the new World War II Memorial. All I can say is it was awesome.

After just one week at home, we loaded up the minivan and drove to Antimony, Utah. In case you’re wondering how to get there, you can reach Antimony by driving to the middle of nowhere and turning right. We gathered at a horse ranch there with 35 members of my wife’s family, including all six of her siblings and a pretty good sampling of nephews, nieces, and sundry in-laws. Much to my surprise I really liked the place. The staff was charming, the accommodations appropriately cozy, and (best of all) there was no cell phone reception. I rewarded myself by leaving my laptop at home as well. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered a porch swing, hidden out back in the shade, removed from the bustle of humanity. Each afternoon I would sneak off to my secret swing and (get this) read a book. No, really. I actually did. It was the highlight of my month.

It’s sad, but not at all surprising, that I had to drive to Antimony in order to slow down. It says a lot about my crazy existence. Several years ago (maybe 25?) there was a movie out called Koyaanisqatsi.  (If you never saw it in a theater I feel sorry for you. It was amazing cinema. Rent it if you can, but in the home theater you cannot approximate the full effect of the film. I can say without equivocation that it is unlike anything you have ever seen before. If you do watch it, let me know what you think.) Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian word which apparently means “crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living.” Let me put it this way: It doesn’t take very long in the porch swing to start thinking that the Hopi know all about your way of life.

Unfortunately, some other way of life is not really an option at this point. I lack the nerve to ditch it all and move out to the country. And I’m pretty certain that I would be miserable there anyway. But it’s nice, from time to time, to get off of the thoroughfare and wander down an unpaved path. Usually when I’m feeling like this it does my soul good to pull out my tattered copy of Walden and read again about Thoreau’s attempt “to live deliberately.” Thus I do vicariously what I would never otherwise do, and along the way I am reminded that there is more to life than the daily have-to’s of modern life.

Enough of my musing. I’ll end here and put this rambling missive in the mail to you (long overdue, I must confess—sorry). Then I’m going to go read my book (Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides). If anyone’s looking for me, tell them I’m out back, swinging in the shade.

PW

Vacation Was a Gas

Dear Will:

A couple of weeks ago my family and I returned from a vacation in southern Colorado. We enjoyed a week of rafting, horseback riding, soaking in hot springs, hiking, exploring ancient ruins, and lots of driving—2,300 miles worth. We had a marvelous time, but as you would guess, by the time we finally pointed the car toward Orange, I was ready to be back in my own home.

So it was that we found ourselves, rolling down I-40, trying to take our minds off of the road. As we approached Havasu City, I remember noticing a Pilot station selling gas for “only” $2.39 per gallon. “Pretty good deal,” I thought—which will tell you all you need to know about what I was paying in and around Durango. As I drove past that exit—the last before we crossed into California—I discovered that I was running low on gas and would need to stop.

(Those of you familiar with that stretch of I-40 can probably anticipate the rest of this story. Having never traveled that stretch of road before, I was not so fortunate.)

When we got to Needles, I took the first exit and pulled into a Union 76 station that was charging $3.09 for a gallon of low-grade unleaded. “I’m not paying 3 bucks for a gallon of gas!” I exclaimed as I drove right through the station without stopping. Assuming that the first exit would offer the most expensive gas, I got back on the freeway and tried the next exit instead.

“Three-nineteen! I’m not paying $3.19 a gallon. This is ridiculous. We can get gas in the next town.” Once again I got back on the freeway without refueling. I looked at the gauge and concluded that I would have plenty in the tank to get me to Fenner—only 38 miles away.

Not far down the road the low-fuel indicator came on. I was averaging 17-18 miles to the gallon, so now I was worried. I had my whole family in the car and the in-dash thermometer indicated that it was 122 degrees outside. I imagined my wife and children baking in the unrelenting heat while I shuffled up the road, gas can in hand, in an ever-growing state of delirium. The desert stretched before me, blank and unforgiving, and the word hubris pounded over and over in my head. Somewhere nearby a lizard laughed. Hysterically.

We came over a rise, pushed onward by the last few drops of fuel in the tank, and finally saw in the distance evidence of what we thought must certainly be Fenner, California. As we drew nearer, however, the highway was pinched down to a single lane. Road construction. “Just watch,” my wife said. “With our luck the exit will be closed.”

It was like some kind of sick joke. The exit was closed. As we drove past the exit and saw the gas station—tantalizingly close, but unattainable—I gnashed my teeth and berated myself for my pride and stupidity. If I were a swearing man, I’d probably have felt a little better right about then, but not much. The next town was almost 60 miles further west.

Quickly I saw what I must do: At the first opportunity, I broke several traffic laws by driving across the median so that we could head back the other direction (there was no construction activity westbound) so that I could get to Fenner. We limped into that gas station, hot and relieved . . . and gladly paid $3.59 for a few gallons of gas.

PW