When we boys were in grade school, my dad cut the body off an old Plymouth. While it retained some dignity with its front fenders and hood still intact, from the dashboard back it was just frame, with a gas tank and wheels at the back. But the old Plymouth had one after-market upgrade; to give the driver a place to sit, dad welded onto the top of the fame, a metal folding chair.

The stripped car was a great way to get around the campground which my parents managed, and we boys further celebrated when we discovered that the back tires, virtually weightless, spun easily under acceleration. The whole thing was a massive tribute to my dad’s unbridled creativity, regardless of the fact that it was a death trap.

“Pops!” we boys teased my dad recently over pasta, “We all drove that old Plymouth around the camp when we were just kids, but if we had fallen off the seat, we would have run over ourselves! It didn’t have a safety belt.” And then we all laughed, Dad too. We grew up in the pre-safety days America.

I love my dad. My dad has given me a good legacy: a love of cars. I love cars, with good seats or bad. I love a fast drive up the winding curves of Sunset Highway into the Luguna Mountains. I love a slow cruise along the cliffy beaches in La Jolla, and I love the extreme left lane on Interstate 5 through the Camp Pendleton area.

But I don’t like the drive I made recently to Los Angeles.

“I’m excited that you’re coming,” I heard my dad say through the tiny speaker in the phone. He sounded small, but he’s isn’t and he doesn’t live in a small town. He lives in densely populated city of Alhambra, in Los Angeles County.

I was driving up the next day to see him and my mom, because the week before my brother Steve had called me from Pasadena. Steve was concerned about dad. He said, “I think you should consider coming up here.”

And after that, my wife said, “Go, you really need to go.”

So I went. I really wanted to go see my dad. He’s eighty-four, and not doing so well. But a few things were working against me making the trip.  I didn’t have a lot of time off work, and I didn’t really want to make the drive from San Diego to Los Angeles and back in a twenty-four hour period. I don’t much care for that drive. Many people don’t. You plan around the traffic, or you get engulfed. And to be honest, although I didn’t admit it to myself at the time, I didn’t want to drive toward or in anyway through the possibility of losing my dad.

Some of my San Diego friends will only drive through Los Angeles at night if they are headed north. Actually, it’s better to enter LA county after it has gone to bed. I haven’t forgotten the family trip from Chula Vista to Santa Clarita on the eve of Thanksgiving several years ago. The 5 turned into a massively long parking lot, but nobody ever left their cars. The trip took five hours. It shaped how I see life. I’d rather fly places. Last year we flew from San Diego to London. I just didn’t want to drive.

The magic motorway from Sand Diego to LA is not one drive; it’s several. It’s the drive through the megaregion of Southern California, through Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Mission Viejo, Irvine, Santa Ana, Orange, Anaheim, Buena Park and you get the idea; it’s the drive through an extended chunk of time; and for me, it’s the drive through the shoulder pain I have when I drive too long.

Of course, I went anyway.

My dad’s pacemaker has quit working. But did it ever really work, correctly? He doesn’t much think so. It was too fast; it was too slow; it was reset; it was set again. It’s like the Los Angeles freeway system, it’s like the internal combustion engine, it’s like all of technology — a work in progress. The pacemaker was reinstalled; the surgery site bothered him. He swears he isn’t getting another one, despite the fact that his heart was recently clocked at thirty-five beats per minute.

Now his knee has gotten painful. Mom said that the doctor said to him, “You’re eighty-four Mr. Hasper, and you have arthritis.” Mom told me that the doctor said this to dad three times.

Driving to LA and back I thought about how I hate that. I hate the doctor implying that my dad, who has always been so alive and worked so hard and overcome so much, is so old that nothing can be done to help him. I also hate my dad being told anything three times. He knows how old he is and he knows precisely, in a way which no one else knows, that his decline will eventually be irreversible. His own dad died a few years ago; he has told me that he’s aware that he’s next on the runway, and then me. That’s comforting.

I left for Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon, pulling out onto the 5 North and sprinting up the freeway, determined to make a quick go of it. In San Diego, we say we are going to Los Angeles when we mean that we are going to any of the cities in that vast urban sprawl that makes up that flat, smoggy, spreading web of rooftops to the north. And so I drove toward the LA complexity, up the mighty 5 North (formerly the 101 here and there), which runs from Mexico to up through Washington, up that huge artery that continuously carries the aspirations and the regrets of families and businesses and loners.

And I drove with a vague awareness that a great deal of thinking has rushed up and down that freeway, that when I drive it, I drive with millions who have driven it before and with their millions of jumbled and complicated thoughts both good and not. In some way, they have proceeded and will yet follow me.

I powered north, from Chula Vista to Alhambra with only a few slows. Good trip! I paused briefly in San Juan Capistrano to refuel, the car and myself, not far from the old mission. It’s a historically fascinating place. The Serra Chapel of 1777 is the oldest building still in use in California and the only surviving church where Father Serra said mass. It’s a reminder that many earlier people have traveled this path north, native Americans, missionaries, explorers, colonists and restless entrepreneurs.

From a gas station I called my mom. I told her, “My smart phone actually messed me up on my last trip. What are the freeways I take again?” I’m not sure why I can’t remember the best route to their house, but LA is like that. You check your route because the exits come fast, to the left and the right, and with so many cars around you, last-minute changes of lanes don’t work well.

I could hear her pulling out a paper road atlas. On the phone I could hear her and my dad muttering over it. They couldn’t remember the freeways either, and so they figured it out, again, the 5 North to the 710 North to the 10 East, the Santa Monica Freeway (the busiest freeway in Southern California), to Atlantic Boulevard, north.

I remember being at my uncle Jerry’s in LA for a Christmas party a few years back and watching the “Angelenos” stand around discussing which freeways to use to get somewhere someone at the party wanted to go. They had lived in the LA area all their lives, and they still had to stand around and discuss, at great length, how to get somewhere. The discussion felt a bit like warning sign, kind of like a road sign I saw on the East coast a few years back, “Dangerous Intersection.”

I drove to my parent’s house in two hours, and I drove home the next day. When I got to Alhambra my mom told me that my two brothers and their wives were also coming over for dinner. And they did come, and then I knew that we all felt that need for some time with him and each other. So we ate pasta that mom made, and we laughed and told stories about cars, about the Plymouth with the folding chair welded onto the frame and about the GTO my brother drove for a few months after he graduated from high school. It was powered by a pavement ripping V-8, but it didn’t have disc breaks, and you simply couldn’t stop it once you got that lengthy expanse of sheet metal hurtling down the street.

I also brought up the car my dad bought for the family when we were in high school, a 1966 candy-apple red Ford Fairlane. Suddenly everybody got lively. It was a 1966 with a 390 cubic inch V-8 sitting in front of some comfy black leather seats with dual glass packed mufflers streaming out the back. Stomp it and you were greeted by screaming tires, an eight cylinder roar, and a neck jerking blast into space.

Oddly enough my dad loaned the Fairlane to me when I was still in high school. I took it out on a gravel road and floored it in a turn. The thing that puzzled my friends and I next was how to get it out of the steep ditch that it was suddenly bottomed out in. I still remember the cars entry into the culvert. There was a great gravely roar that indicated that the whole thing was being torn to pieces and a huge bounce and rumble as it landed at the bottom of the ditch, but when we got out, we found that the candy apple paint was untouched. And so we built a rock ramp and drove it out of there. I never told my dad about this until he was old, and the car was long sold, and Dad was too feeble to do anything about it.

We boys and mom and dad had a great evening together, fueled by the great combination of dinner, laughter and dessert, and the next day, I powered back the same route I had come, Alhambra to San Diego on Monday afternoon and into Chula Vista in slightly under two hours. It was a good commute.

Coming home, I raced down the 10 East from Alhambra, exiting oddly in the left lanes to get to the 710 South. The freeway bounced the car unexpectedly, as if the construction workers had been unaware that they were making a roller coaster out of what was supposed to be flat and even. I took the 5 South through city after city to the 805 South to the H Street exit in Chula Vista, to home.

When I left from Alhambra to come home, my mom came out to the car, put her arms around me, rested her head on my shoulder and said, “I love him so much,” and she began to cry. “I don’t know what I’ll do without him,” she said to me, thinking ahead to what she knew was coming. I held her close and kissed her head. I didn’t cry, but I felt quiet inside, like there was a huge expanse of space inside of my mind that I wasn’t sure how to get across.

Coming home I didn’t play the radio. I didn’t play the book on CD my wife had sent with me. And, I didn’t play Pandora radio through my smart phone. I had options, but I only wanted to sit, drive, think. I watched the road and listened to the smack of the road on the tires, a hard thump here, rhythmic pops there, a smooth quiet glide again that made you wonder why it wasn’t all made smooth. But it wasn’t.

After I graduated from high school, I drove my 55 Chevy hot rod up to Iowa for the summer with a friend and we built sections of Interstate 29 south of Council Bluffs. This paid for my first year of college. I worked on the machine that lay steel rebar in the road. It was grueling labor. We whipped long metal rebar out of twisted piles of steel and we lay them in troughs that ran out of the back of the machine. Sometimes we went down onto the road and tied shorter cross pieces on the rebar with thin wires, twisting the wire around the bars with a little tool with a wooden handle. Then the great cement machines came and laid down a thick grey slab of cement, floating the bars in the middle of the massive river. We made history, we made a concrete corridor, we made place that people could pass through, to go see their fathers and to return again.

I have a connection, with freeways, I find them interesting, Interstate 29 Iowa, Interstate 5 in Southern California. In East Los Angeles the 5 is old. It’s narrow, near Downey, dropping down to three lanes. There one drives through a kind of narrow urban canyon.

 The 5 South, in one of it’s narrower places, fit my mood as I drove home from visiting my dad. I had a sense of traveling in the direction that I had to go through cities that I didn’t want to stop in to get back to a place I needed to be.

As I drove, I drove through history, the history that shaped the freeway and the culture that it created. At the beginning of the 20th Century, people were still traveling around on horses. The fledgling automobile was a novelty, until Henry Ford brought out his Model T in 1908. The car was produced and reproduced until May of 1927. People could afford these cars and so they bought them and fixed them and raced them and lived in them, but they had no idea what was ahead. The country was undergoing a huge transportation revolution.

The nation fell in love with the independence automobiles provided. Soon cars glutted the dirt roads of America and propelled the development of new surfaces to roll along on. Dirt roads were paved, highways were constructed, and still there was not enough traveling space.

It’s a hugely important chapter in our national history, but it’s also an important chapter in my family’s history. My dad told me, during my trip to see him that he bought his first car in 1943. It was a 1930 Model A Ford. The first freeway he drove on was from Pasadena to downtown LA.

In 1940 the Pasadena Freeway, the 110, or the “Arroyo Seco Parkway” as it was originally called, opened to cars. The ensuing LA system was built around this. My dad lived in Glendale, and he drove the 110 after he got back from the war and met my mom and started our family. The 110’s short on ramps, twisting turns, sudden dips, absent shoulders and scenic landscape are all reminders of a time when cars were slower and fewer. But this was the way of the future, and this transportation history created, in part, my trip to Los Angeles.

The idea of a freeway, worked, and San Diego followed suite. The lone traveler in his or her personal car, on a road with no stops, was born. The first freeway in San Diego was U.S. 395, now the 163. Construction began in 1942 and it was opened in 1948 as the 395 or Cabrillo Freeway. It’s wide, grassy, tree-lined median makes it still the most beautiful freeway in the city.

And it came to me on my drive, that this past had created, in part, my present movement through time and space.

As I drove home, I sat still and alone, in my personal car, cushioned in leather and fine wood and painted metal with my right foot on the gas pedal and my SUV rushing down old pavement, past old block walls, through large billboards and industrial buildings and my mind rushing down an unknown road into a future that I couldn’t see. I traveled in a controlled, historical, channeled fashion as my mind wandered through history and into the future, down ancient, twisting, unposted mental roadways.

In Anaheim and Irvine the freeway opened up. The signs for Disneyland came into view. I thought about my friends who had told me before I left that they were going to the theme park for the weekend. I’ve done that, gone to Disney land with my two daughters and wife. Disneyland is fun with kids. It was a different feel, the trip to Disneyland. It wasn’t like traveling to go see your dad when he is figuring out how to be 84 years old and you are figuring out how to feel about that.

The freeway was twelve lanes now. In Irvine the retaining walls along the edge had beautiful flowers set in them. Instead of a narrow corridor, there were now hills and sky. I felt for a moment as if I had escaped. It was 2:30 pm and I could feel the freeway in Los Angeles filling up with traffic behind me. I rushed away from the rush and felt a sense of relief. I had escaped.

I flowed along now at 75 and 80 miles per hour, staying in the left lane and letting the car run. At 80 mph the tach said 3,000 rpms, just right for cruising. In San Juan Capistano the huge retaining walls along the freeway suddenly presented me with huge, beautiful concrete swallows who seemed to be flying along with me. I flew with them and then outran them quickly. I was feeling better.

My dad and I had talked about what you do with what you get. “Life is going by fast now,” he said.

“Does it seem to get faster as you get older?” I asked him.

“It is just flying by,” he said. “Last week, this week, then it’s next week. You can’t belive how fast it goes.” My mom agreed.

Time for him was just absolutely flying now. I wonder why? Perhaps it is because there is so much behind him that looking back over so much road, in one glance, gives the illusion of greatly increased speed. I have a bit of a sense of it too now. I’m not so far behind him.

But his body isn’t going faster. When my dad got up with us from the front room, to go out to the car when we went out to breakfast, he grabbed a cane, paused swaying, lurched forward unsteadily, and proceeded as if he might fall at any juncture. He didn’t once complain, about going slow while going fast. I’m think that I’m learning something from him that I will need for myself later.

I had thought I’d stop on the way home, in San Juan Capistrano, for a brief rest. My wife and I always stop in San Juan Capistrano. We exit the freeway on Ortega Highway, near the old Spanish mission. There are lots of bathrooms and food stops and a Starbucks, but this day, I didn’t stop. Something in me didn’t want to stop. I wanted to go home, V8 fast, I wanted to keep going very fast.

And that’s one of the things that’s gotten me to thinking, the fast thing, which I grew up with, but which isn’t always good.

I shared my trip to see my dad and my concerns about him with a friend recently. She had an interesting response. It “seems as if you were [on the trip to see your dad] in a hurry to get it over with.” She wrote in an email to me. “I was the same when my dad was dying. But with my mom, I found I wanted more to savor each moment I had with her.”

She is right; I am rushing. I rush around a lot.

The other day, I sped up as I got closer to home.

The 5 South seemed to open up to me after San Clemente with the first sighting of the sea. I have always loved the views of the ocean from the 5. They remind me that life is bigger than I thought. I passed quickly over the freeway landscape, past the fields of drying fennel south of the San Onofre Power Plant.  

Just past Del Mar, I noticed that the vista to the sea was spectacular, the eroding cliffs, the palms and pines and flat, spreading water, they seemed more beautiful than ever to me. I always think of home as near the ocean. In San Diego, the 5 runs close to the ocean and the bay. The freeway includes the water. I saw the water, I knew I was almost home.

But not for long.

Soon, because, as my dad said, time is flying so fast now, I’ll pull myself to my own feet here in my own living room, and head back onto the road again. I’ll drive to Los Angeles, up both old and new stretches of freeway, because I’ll get a call from my mom, or maybe it will be my dad, because who really know which of them will go first, and then I know I’ll cry. And I’ll drive back up the 5 again, this time with my wife and two daughters.

And this trip will feel different from any other time. I’m not looking forward to the drive.

But it will not be unfamiliar, for out on the 5, where we pass through towns known and unknown and go very fast, we travel in familiar spaces, and we go to places that many other people have gone before.

I will go, to one of my parents and she or he will be alone,  and I’ll be fatherless or motherless for the first time in my life, but I will pass through the Southern California megaregion among millions and millions of people.

And we will hit some traffic, I’m sure, and have to stop, and start again, but as I pass through their cities, many of them living there will know how I feel, and I will then know, out on the road that day, how they feel too

 

Comments
  1. Anonymous says:

    Pastor Randy, Reading your post made me cry, knowing your family and how difficult this is. Please know you are in my prayers. Antonia

  2. Kathy says:

    Randy, praise God we don’t travel this journey we walk with our parents alone. It is a very difficult road, but when all is done and said, you feel blessed to have been able to be there. I’ll say some prayers for you all. Love you friend! Kathy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s