Saturday, August 14, 2010

A drive in summer

Ostensibly it was to save money on petrol. Using a car's air conditioner burns extra fuel, so I drove the 1,276 miles from Bloomington, Minnesota, to Lake Jackson, Texas, with windows down.

Our friends in the Soggy Nations will likely not have heard of Click and Clack, hosts of "Car Talk," an automotive-related radio programme broadcast nationally in the United States on NPR. The programme is strangely popular among people who know very little about cars. Perhaps this is because the hosts are so entertaining, or perhaps it is because people who understand cars don't listen to public radio. According to Click and Clack, or, at least, according to a friend of mine who listens to Click and Clack, the savings made from not using a car's air conditioner is negated by the additional aerodynamic drag caused by driving with the windows down. It is a claim echoed by MythBusters, a popular U.S. television programme that generally involves blowing stuff up.

I don't know how Click and Clack came to their conclusion, but the methods used by MythBusters were flawed and failed to mirror actual driving conditions. And regardless of what they say, the simple truth is that in every car I've ever driven if the car had an air conditioner its use had a noticeably negative effect on fuel consumption. I am a starving artist, yo. It's money I don't really have.

Admittedly, had a female been in the car, the additional cost would have been justified. I fear Mrs. Phin may flag me as sexist for the implications in saying such a thing, but I have yet to meet a woman who could honestly tolerate heat. I know plenty of women who could keep from complaining, but deep down inside they would be hating the experience as well as everyone involved in the experience. In that case, use of air conditioner is well-advised; the cost of an additional tank of petrol is far less than what it takes to get back on a woman's good side.

My friend Dani, for example, is a tough cookie and prides herself on being as such. Had she been riding shotgun on my cross-country trip she could easily have gone the whole way without so much as a disgruntled sigh. But quietly in her head, each mile, each foot, each minute, each second she had to sit there being hot and sweaty and uncomfortable would have added exponentially to the list of things she felt I owed her in compensation. By journey's end, I would have nonverbally consigned myself to perpetual dishwashing. I would be expected to do her laundry every day for the rest of my life.

Travelling on my own, though, I came out ahead. It costs roughly $40 (£25) to fill the tank of my father's Honda Accord. I estimate I saved $80 by navigating the great American concrete river sans air-conditioned bliss.

Speeding across the Kansas landscape, I realised there was another reason for keeping the windows open: I wanted to feel America.

Jack Kerouac taught us to love the road trip. Thanks to him and the diligent work of Big Three marketing departments, the road trip is an integral part of the American experience. The boys are thirsty in Atlanta and there's beer in Texarkana. You're not really Yanqui until you get in a car and just go. But as much as Americans profess to love the road and the nation it cuts through, most would prefer to block out the experience. They see their country from a climate-controlled box, separating themselves from the sound and feel of that which they claim to be exploring.

In a way, they know no more about the great and wide of America than a person who has never even been there. How much do you get of a place by only looking at it? If you roll up the windows and crank up the AC as you sail through Arizona desert, how much more do you really know of it than some bloke sitting on a vibrating chair watching the same thing on a high-definition television set? Touching a real woman's breasts is infinitely better than seeing pictures of them on the internet. Swimming in a river helps you understand it better than simply standing on its banks. And watching a landscape unfold before you has greater worth when you breathe it in.

~


The day before I set out, it had been jungle hot in the Twin Cities. It was like having one of those steam towels they give you at Japanese restaurants shoved down your throat and being set upon by sweaty, amorous sumo wrestlers. It was like being trapped at the bottom of a rugby ruck. The air was too thick to breathe. The heat was inescapable.

Dirt road


That night I drove to Dan and Johanna's place for dinner with them, Anthony and Maggie. In the air-conditioned cool of the house, lounging on spongy new carpet, we debated the wisdom of going outside. But Dan and Johanna live in the sort of place that draws people outdoors. A mile down a dirt road and nestled in several acres of land, the house is really only a place to sleep. You can see that in the way much of it looks unoccupied inside. Outside, Dan and Johanna have planted gardens and set up chicken coops, stacked cords of firewood and cut trails leading out to grassland. It is the sort of place about which country songs are written. And it takes so damn long to get there from Bloomington Rock City I was surprised such a song hadn't been written and released about me en route: the European city boy headin' out to the country.

Jungle hot be damned, we ordered pizza and went outside with cold beer and mosquito repellent because unless there's a risk of being struck down by lightning, no summer day in Minnesota should be wasted. As the sunlight abandoned its fight against sullen grey clouds that had dominated through the day, a soft breeze started to push in and the heat faded away into the night. Flames danced in the fire pit and in the spirit of American ingenuity we made s'mores with Reese's peanut butter cups.

For our friends in the Soggy Nations, a s'more is an American desert made at campfires. Using a stick or straightened wire coat hanger, a marshmallow is toasted over the fire and then placed on a piece of chocolate. That is then sandwiched by two graham crackers (a dry, square biscuit often used as the base for pie crusts). Tradition holds that the chocolate be from a Hershey's bar. I'm not sure why that's the tradition. It just is. Why is it tradition for English rugby fans to sing a negro spiritual? Sometimes things just happen. But we broke the rules by using Reese's, a combination of chocolate and peanut butter that you'll find mimicked on page 25 of Nigella Lawson's Nigella Christmas cookbook.

With the Hershey's culinary wall torn down we went mad with power and added fresh raspberries. Then, displaying the sort of reckless behaviour that not so many years ago would have seen us dragged before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Maggie and Johanna scrapped the chocolate altogether: marshmallow, raspberries and graham crackers. It was a crazy time.

So crazy we didn't really know where to go from there. Night drew on and everyone but me had to work in the morning. I had to drive across the country. There was a sadness in our goodbyes. That's a running theme of my trips home: I see my friends, laugh with them, want to embrace them from joy, and then walk away. If I'm lucky, I'll see them in a year. So much life happens in that time, though: houses are bought, jobs are lost, love is won, marriages fail, children are born, loved ones die, joys and tragedies. And I will miss them.

But I feel pulled away. My personal narrative is one of always yearning to find a place where I can grow roots, getting there and feeling on fire with the need to go elsewhere. As my father's black Honda danced down the dirt road leading away from Dan and Johanna's house, the cool air of summer night mussed my hair through open windows and whispered of open road.

~


I first noticed the heat in Des Moines, Iowa. I had stopped there for lunch, unable to resist the call of Buffalo Wild Wings. Returning to my car with a belly full of chicken-wing goodness I was struck by the sting of the sun as I walked across the restaurant's treeless car park. I will never understand why developers of cities, businesses and housing have such a deep hatred of trees. With nothing to stop it, the sun came at me from all corners, even bouncing off the white of new concrete. I squinted against the glare, felt the burn of the car's door handle on my fingertips, opened the door and was pushed back by an oven-like heat.

I was back on the interstate soon enough, though, and by the time I was able to find a radio station broadcasting something other than advertisements, Iowa was perfectly tolerable. Soon I was gliding across the Missouri state line.

I have long struggled to understand why anyone would want to live in Missouri. It gets bitterly cold in the winter, but not so often that you really get enough snow to reliably enjoy the season. In the summer it gets miserably hot but swimmable lakes and rivers are few and far between; the ocean is hundreds upon hundreds of miles away. Its major cities of St. Louis and Kansas City fall into that category of American towns -- like Cleveland, Detroit and Albany -- that were once important in one way or another and are now to be avoided. Last summer I had considered visiting St. Louis on my trip across the United States but was consistently advised against it by everyone I spoke to.

"Have you been there before?" they would ask.
"No," I'd say. "But I'd like to see the Arch."
"It's not all that impressive," they'd say. "And then, once you've seen it, there's nothing else to do. You're stuck driving hundreds of miles back to anything interesting."

But the thing about any place -- any place in the world -- is that there will always be at least one person who loves it. If you drive any great distance, in any country, you will inevitably pass through towns and cities that hold no appeal to you whatsoever: towns you will forget even before you are beyond their boundaries. But somewhere in each of those places are people for whom it is the whole world. Somewhere in those places are people who wouldn't want to be anywhere else, people who would ache and die inside if you dragged them away. I try to think about that when I go new places. I try to imagine not only what it would be like to live there, but what it would be like to love living there. Some places are more of a challenge for me than others. Gary, Indiana, for example.

Buffalo (not really)


Anywhere in Missouri is also a challenge. But at a rest area in Eagleville, I got out and walked in the surrounding plains grassland. Mysteriously, a series of giant iron silhouette statues of bison had been set up across a field, with a giant silhouette Native American overlooking the scene. I walked up close to the statues and saw a hawk sitting on the shoulder of the Native American. Around me darted little prairie birds moving so fast and at such tight angles they were hard to glimpse. It reminded me of North Dakota, reminded me of a girl from long ago, and I thought perhaps I could see why someone might at least like that little corner of the state.

I hit Kansas City at rush hour. Slowness of traffic and urban landscape poured heat into the car. The roads to and through the metropolis seemed to have been designed by someone who hated Kansas City. With erratic, nonsensical turns the interstate winds underneath soot-laden bridges and past walls of concrete misery, only occasionally offering you a glimpse of a downtown that wears the look of a prostitute who's just realised she's going to have to drop her asking price. Again.

I crawled into the state of Kansas, picked up speed and coughed up car exhaust for 20 miles. Moving deeper into the Sunflower State, the heat wrapped around me even at 80 mph. There's a scene in the James Bond film Goldfinger in which the villain threatens to launch a nuclear missile at Kansas but then decides against it, reasoning "no one would notice." There's not a great deal to see and do in Superman's adopted home state. But perhaps because of that, it is one of the best places I know to be at sunset.

Once again free of urban landscape, Interstate 35 floats through a sea of seemingly endless lush green hills generally populated by little more than tranquil, bemused-looking cows. Occasionally the road dips down into a little island of trees and creek or river, then dances back up another ridge. At sunset I found myself gliding through Flint Hills, the last great expanse of tall-grass prairie in the United States. The fading golden sun was warm on my face as it sank just behind my right shoulder. The sky went bright orange, then pink and red with strips of salmon cloud stretched thin across the horizon.

Already by that point I had heard "Free" by Zac Brown Band enough times to know the words by memory. I turned off the radio and sang to myself. Then I went quiet and listened to the roar of wind and road. I tasted the warm freshness of the air. This Kansas summer evening was as warm as a Cardiff summer day. As the car shot onward into the night, the headlights reaching into nothingness, I heard crickets singing in the grass. When the road dipped into an area of trees I could hear the whining song of cicada.

Cicadas. The choir of my childhood summers.

Dinner was two cans of Red Bull and several packets of Fig Newtons. I had timed things poorly and not thought about how the only food available on the Kansas Turnpike would be McDonald's or petrol station snack fare. By the time I reached Oklahoma it was too late for any restaurants to be open.

~


Rest areas are an all-too-often under-appreciated facet of American life. Dotted along the country's interstates and highways are a collection of buildings where a person can stop, make use of a clean restroom and usually purchase soda and snacks from a vending machine. Rest areas are maintained by the states they are in, so number and quality vary considerably from place to place. Some states use their rest areas as tourist centres, staffing it with a person who happily hands out pamphlets and will circle points of interest for you on a complimentary map. Many rest areas have designated spots to exercise your pets. Some have little paths where a person can walk off the effects of being cramped in a car. Often there are picnic benches; sometimes there are barbecue grills. Free wi-fi is increasingly common; free coffee is increasingly rare. In Minnesota there are rest areas roughly every 40 miles. In Oklahoma there are none.

At least, there are none on Interstate 35 that are still open. Anti-government sentiment of the past decade or so has contributed to the closure of many rest areas in the United States. Americans seem to hate the idea of paying taxes for something that anyone other than themselves might use. They don't like trains and buses, they don't like maintaining roads and bridges, they don't like public schools, they don't like universal health care, and they don't like providing no-cost areas for fellow drivers to avoid shitting themselves or becoming so tired they drive off the road and die. This is especially true in the not-so-great state of Oklahoma.

In addition to forgoing air conditioning on this trip, I had chosen to abstain from motel use. Depending on your stamina, the drive from Bloomington to Lake Jackson takes two to three days, generally being broken up by overnights at motels en route. My plan, though, was to simply stop at a rest area and sleep in the car. Crossing into Oklahoma, the Red Bull was beginning to wear off and I started to look forward to finding a place to stop and get some sleep. But that place never came.

Exhaustion sank its fangs into me. Oklahoma became nothing more than road and darkness. Somewhere in God Knows Where, I stopped at a petrol station/casino where frightening Native Americans smoked cigarettes and watched me purchase an exorbitantly expensive can of Red Bull and a dusty bottle of water. I drove and drove: 236 miles wanting sleep. I remember nothing of Oklahoma City, saw the sign for J.R.'s in Norman and wondered if I will ever time things right that I'll actually get to eat there, and pushed on and on and on.

Around 2 a.m., I crossed the Red River into my home state. There, the road suddenly veers to the left across the bridge and if you aren't careful you'll drive full speed into an enormous 24-hour pornography store. Welcome to Texas. Just a few miles further on, I found a huge rest area where I parked beneath an enormous state flag waving in the warm summer night. I folded down the back seats and crawled in so my head was in the car's boot (ftypah: "trunk"). I sent a text to the pride of Hirwaun and fell asleep with the phone still in my hand.

A few hours later, I woke up confused. I don't remember what the dream was but it had been about the pride of Hirwaun. Then suddenly I was in north Texas and it was 5:30 a.m. I fell out of the car gracelessly and weaved toward the restrooms. Some part of me was lost, trying to figure out where Lisa had gone. I stuck my face in a sink basin and ran water over my head. When I looked up I saw another man had come into the restroom, stripped down to his shorts and was washing himself at one of the other sinks. He had set out soap and toothpaste and a toothbrush and a towel on a window sill. Probably a few years younger than me, dark-tanned and sun-bleached messy hair, he whistled as he scrubbed the back of his neck with a rag.

"Mornin', bud," he said in an easy Southern accent.
"Mornin'," I said.

I washed all the sleep from my eyes and went back outside into the weak grey light of morning. Crickets climbed on a broken water fountain. There were a dozen or more cars in the parking lot, my father's sleek, black Honda easily the best looking of the bunch. A child slept on the dashboard of an old Ford Econoline. Two overweight men slept open-mouthed in a 1980s Pontiac Grand Am missing its front bumper. A woman in dirty brown dreadlocks and tattered skirt undid the rope that had been holding shut the tailgate of an old Plymouth minivan, propped it open with a broomstick and dug through a backpack. The man from the restroom came out, wearing dirty khakis and an A&M T-shirt. He patted the woman on the back and handed her the soap and toothpaste. I had not been the only one to use the rest area as a place to sleep that night. But I was probably the only one doing so out of choice.

~


I looked up at the giant Texas flag waving overhead and thought about the drive ahead of me. I was tired, but decided I wanted to get through Dallas before the rush hour. The people of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area are some of the worst drivers I've ever encountered. Imagine if a dog could drive; that's how the people of Dallas drive. They speed up, suddenly slow down, drift from lane to lane and otherwise behave as if they have recently refused treatment for a concussion. Unless you enjoy the white-hot burn of total rage, it's generally best to avoid being stuck in traffic with them.

Concrete jumble


Three hours of sleep hadn't really been enough. But I found a kind of commiseration in listening to a radio morning show that had started earlier that week. The host, Russ Martin, and his crew were still coming to terms with their new early shifts and suffering from sleep deprivation. It now being Friday, the show had devolved into little more than a room full of guys trying to keep one another from falling asleep on air. At one point, after about 20 seconds of silence, Martin moaned: "Oh, Lord. I haven't been this tired since I was born."

Once I was safely beyond the DFW traffic madness I stopped at a Waffle House in Ennis for breakfast. I sat at the counter and was served by a woman named Brandie. I'm sure every guy who walks in there knows her name because it's on her name tag, which you spot incidentally when staring at her enormous stripper boobs.

"Whatcha want, babe?" Brandie asked as I sat down.
"Uhm. Tea," I said, quickly trying to scan the menu that had just been handed to me. "May I have a hot tea, please?"
"And?"
"Two eggs, scrambled. Sausage. And hashbrowns, please."
"White or wheat toast?"
"Wheat, please."
"That it for ya?"
"Yeah. Think so. Oh, can I have an ice water, as well, please?"
"Yup."

Brandie wore a fashion Dr. Pepper baseball cap, holding up bleached-blond hair and helping to hide dark, weary eyes. Her makeup was done in the heavy style of north Texas women: thick enough to stop a low-calibre bullet. And ineffectively hidden by a tent of a uniform, were a large pair fake breasts. In my head I made up a story that she is a stripper in the evenings, that she has two kids and an insufferably no-good Vicodin-addicted ex-husband who occasionally shows up and borrows money. I tried to think up a lie about being a reporter or something that would allow me to ask her what the hell she was doing working at Waffle House, but it was too early in the morning for me to be that inventive. I ate my breakfast with a sense of purpose, gulped down my tea and got back to the road.

In Madisonville, I stopped at a Buc-ee's to buy a 12-pack of water bottles. Effectively just a petrol station, Buc-ee's is the sort that has developed a die-hard following -- in part because of the things sold there, like leather gun-style holsters for mobile phones. The Buc-ee's slogan is: "Everything you ever needed. You just didn't know it." I spent five minutes seriously contemplating the purchase of a cowboy hat but eventually decided against it. Not a day has gone by since in which I haven't regretted that decision. The road to hell is paved with unbought cowboy hats.

Cool hand Huntsville


The heat was becoming undeniable as I sped toward Houston. I gulped down water and used a Wendy's napkin to wipe away the sweat. It was hot, that kind of heat where adjectives and cognitive thinking slip away. All one can process is: "It is hot."

In a field to my right, I spotted several people in white jumpsuits, lined up in formation. Several yards away and at all sides sat men on horseback, looking like the Native American silhouette in Missouri overlooking his herd of silhouette bison. But these were real men, sitting tall in the saddle and wearing white cowboy hats, whom I realised were holding real rifles. They were guards, and the men in white jumpsuits were a prison work crew.

I was passing Huntsville, home to Texas' execution chamber. Home to the Texas Prison Museum and formerly home to one of the more brutal prison rodeos in the United States.

Arriving Huntsville is like sitting on top of a hill. Not that there any actual hills to be had in the area. But when I was a boy it meant we were almost home. Houston was not so far away. Indeed, with each passing year, Houston stretches her concrete fingers ever closer. Huntsville feels like the start of a tumbling, accelerating fall into the heat and humidity and smell and madness of Houston.

I cannot imagine two people falling in love in Houston. I can imagine two lovers from elsewhere making a bad career move and ending up in Houston; I can imagine any number of teenage backseat romances; I can imagine two people slipping into a pattern with one another, having kids and finding themselves in an endless cycle of mortgages and parent meetings and home improvement and keeping up appearances. But I can't imagine two souls -- a Houston boy and a Houston girl -- meeting and truly falling in love.

When I was a boy, we used to play a game called Smear the Queer. In more culturally sensitive areas the game is known as: Kill the Guy With the Ball. In a group of boys, an American football is thrown to one and the rest chase him down and tackle him. The ball is picked up by another boy and the process repeats itself. There is no win or lose, no strategy, no end: just boys beating the shit out of one another until they get bored. Often we would leave the ball out and instead call a person's name: "OK, now Grant is 'it.' Everyone get him!"

We played Slaps. We played Spread Eagle, a game that involved having a kid stand against a wall and throwing a tennis ball at him. In Hide and Seek we had to run and touch a tree without the person playing "it" hitting us with a stick. The game Bombers was simply standing on opposite sides of a ditch and trying to hit one another with rocks. And sometimes we would just sit and punch each other in the arms and legs and chest and back, to see who could hit hardest.

I cannot imagine two people falling in love in Houston.

The city is a human throng. It has no sense of purpose or direction or commonality. It has no heart. It does, however, have nearly 6 million people in its metro area: a metro area that extends dozens upon dozens of miles beyond its ghost-like downtown. Great rivers of dusty white concrete, perpetually under construction, spider across 10 counties. Houston is big. And it is hot. It is a hot you can't comprehend -- burning, humid, unforgiving. Evil. In 1866, sent there to protect against possible Mexican/French invasion, Gen. Phillip Sheridan said of the area: "If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell."

Despite being stretched out across five lanes in each direction, traffic slowed to a crawl about 35 miles north of downtown. I reached behind my seat to grab a bottle of water from the 12-pack I had bought in Madisonville, drank it down in one gulp and tossed it to the passenger-side floorboard to roll around with the other empties. I reached behind me and grabbed another bottle. Sweat was pouring out. My arm no longer stuck to the armrest, it now slid -- leaving a trail of sweat.

My father would later claim that "no one in their right mind" would drive across Houston without air conditioning. He is probably right. And although I may not be of sound mind, I am at least of sound body. I am a healthy person; I could handle the physical strain of the heat and humidity. I'm certain, however, that a large number of people would be physically incapable of doing such a thing -- it would literally kill them. Especially considering the city has the highest rate of obesity in the country. Houston has sprawled so terribly, so unnaturally, it is a very serious threat to one's health to drive across town. It is a city that defies God. It is a city of madness. And it grows ever larger.

~


Eventually I fell onto Highway 288, the road to Lake Jackson. Getting out of Houston is like fighting against a planet's gravitational pull, but once beyond the turnoff for Alvin I felt the city's grip loosening. The car returned to its 80-mph cruising speed. On the radio, Miranda Lambert sang "The House That Built Me."

The highway has changed over the years. I can remember when stoplights would sway above the road in Gulf Coast storms, when vans would be parked roadside selling everything from shrimp to velvet paintings, when my grandparents' house was far away. Now the 288 is a motorway, a shining, white express route with nothing to slow you or draw your attention. In almost no time I was turning onto the familiar curving, buckled roads of old Lake Jackson. And then up the two-strips-of-concrete driveway of my grandparents' house, past the towering live oak and parking in front of their weathered old garage.

I took a big gulp of water, stepped out of the car. The next-door neighbour's air conditioner hummed, a dog barked. I opened the squeaking screen door at the back of the house, then pushed open the other door. Years ago, my grandfather had rigged it so a music box plays "Eyes of Texas" when you step inside. The first few notes announced my arrival, I let the closing screen door push me inside.

"Hey! There he is!" my grandmother said, coming to hug me -- then pausing. "What on earth?!"
"Oh, yeah. I'm a bit sweaty," I said. "I drove with the windows down."
"All the way?" she laughed.
"Yeah. Houston was really hot."
"Well, OK," she said, her voice arcing to let me know her opinion. "I'll fix us some hot dogs."

"Hey. Chris," my grandfather announced from his chair.

Breezy doesn't say anything. He announces. It comes from his years as a football coach, I suppose. He has always been able to hold a certain authority with his his deep-voiced West Texas accent. One of my favourite stories of him comes from when he was a high school vice-principal. He prevented a school shooting by walking right up to the gun-toting teenager and saying: "Give me that shotgun, or I'm gonna have to tell your daddy."

Of course, in those days he was also a physical presence. Now 86 years old and recovering from stroke, he was thinner than in my memory. I walked across the room to him. That's what you do; Breezy waits for people to come to him.

"Hello, sir," I said, sticking out my right hand. "How are you feeling?"

He looked at my hand, frowned at it and waved it away with a quick brushing motion. He then lifted up his left hand to me. I switched hands, extended my left, and he crushed it in his grip. The stroke had affected my grandfather's right side, which is slightly fortunate because he's naturally left-handed. Of course he had taught himself to shake hands with his right, to conform to societal norms, but now preferred to risk awkwardness rather than a weak handshake.

There is importance in a good handshake. That's something my grandfather taught me. You are conveying things with a handshake -- things about yourself and about how you feel toward the other person. I'm sure some people would accuse me of being outdated for holding that view, for judging people by the way they shake my hand. I don't care. My artistic side would like to care, feels I should care, but I don't. A handshake is important; I'm unapologetic about that. It is the first step in showing your worth. Swimming in a river helps you understand it better. Driving across your country with the windows down helps you feel a part of it. Shaking a man's hand helps you know who he is.

My grandmother set out chilli dogs and glasses of ice tea. After lunch, she brought bowls of vanilla Blue Bell ice cream for me and my grandfather.

"Chris. They have Blue Bell over in Wales?" asked Breezy playfully.
"No, sir. They don't."
"Hmm. They got any pretty girls?"
"Yes, sir. I can think of a few."
"Pretty girls but no Blue Bell ice cream?"
"Yes, sir."
"Well. I don't think I'll go to Wales. We got both here."

Gulf coast sky


I brought in my things. A chocolate bar my mother had sent along for my grandmother had completely liquified in the heat. I trudged upstairs, set my bags in my mother's old room, then went to take a shower.

I had only had 3.5 hours of sleep in the last 30-odd hours. Clean, with food in my belly and in the cool of the air-conditioned house, I lay down on my bed and looked up at the ceiling. I thought of when I was a kid and my grandmother would take me to the beach or down to the pool. I would splash and play to the point of collapse -- until I was dehydrated, worn out and sunburned. Then, in my exhausted kid delirium I would lie on my bed and listen to the world around me: my grandfather watching sports, the ceiling fan, cicadas.

I thought of the summers and Thanksgivings and Christmases and birthdays and Easters. I thought of climbing in trees, jumping off the railing, sliding down the stairs, crawling through the laundry chute, hiding behind the couch and going on long evening walks with my grandmother. Thus far in my life I've called at least 16 different places "home." I've lived in 12 cities, in five states, in three countries. My grandparents' house has remained the only constant. More so than anywhere else, it is the house I grew up in.

As I drifted off to sleep, I listened to the soft "click-click" of the ceiling fan. Outside, cicadas were singing in the live oaks. Downstairs, my grandfather was watching baseball.

3 comments:

Lucky said...

Wow! Brilliant post. I found myself exclaiming "YES!" over and over, to Lady Luck's annoyance.

When we first lived in Arizona, the rat Buick's air conditioner crapped out. I drove an entire summer with the windows rolled down. I'd get out in the 115 degree heat and feel relief because it was nice and cool. I like to think it built character, but really I think it just hastened my mental decline...

Chris Cope said...

Thanks, Lucky. I figured, being someone who doesn't even like the confining nature of cars, let alone cars with their windows up, you'd be able to relate -- thus the little reference to Arizona in the post.

Banksy said...

I remember the one time I went to the USA - a press trip to Arizona - and the sun was beating down vertically upon us. An angle we're not used to up here in the northern latitudes, where when it does burn hot, it at least does so not that high over the horizon.

I ended up burning the very tops of my ears, the one part of me not slathered in sunblock. Exquisitely painful.

Still loved Arizona though.

Met my spirit guide in the town of Prescott (rhymes with biscuit say the locals) or at least that's what the psychic who worked with the FBI we met assured me when I told him about the frankly weird dreams I had there.