Archive for the ‘cars’ Category

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



Posted: July 24, 2010 in cars
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 “You’re getting us animals a bad name in the district by your furious driving and your smashes and your rows with the police. Independence is all very well, but we animals never allow our friends to make fools of themselves beyond a certain limit; and that limit you’ve reached.”

Wind In The Willows

As we slid around the corner sideways, I leaned into it and pushed the gas pedal down hard. We launched out of the corner with gravel spinning from the tires and plums of dust churning and dancing behind us, wild enough to make Mr. Toad grin wildly.

I loved this rumbling, tire spinning, drop-dead gorgeous car. It knocked you back in the seat with tire screeching, muffler growling, scenery blurring torque, and it looked good doing it.

Black leather bucket seats, candy apple red flanks, chrome steel wheels, glass packed mufflers and a 390 cubic inch V8 engine – somebody clearly set out to make some fun. It’s partly the touch thing. The surfaces of cars draw us to them, the soft glossy metal, the shapely dash, the arm chair seats, the glowing red dash lights, the fascinating buttons to push, the plush carpets. It’s home away from home. But at the heart of the beast is the engine, and this particular car was engine intensive. If you explored its full potential, then at some point you might need to pull over to the side of the road, step out of the car, put your hands on the hood and wait for the police to arrive.

But there were no police to get into a row with on the gravel road that summer day, just me driving and my crazy teenage friends in the back enjoying the rush. We went fast, we got there quickly, we had our fun, we felt cool, but on the way home things went south, or north or whatever way it was that I didn’t want to go. The car got away from me on a corner of a gravel road and we went into the ditch with a horrible bouncing and pounding, gravel and rocks whacking up against the bottom of the car with tremendous noise and force. I was Jack Kerouac’s Dean in On the Road, powering across America in my “old jalopy chariot with thousands of sparking flames shooting out from under it.”

When I got out I expected to see crushed sheet metal — nothing, just a beautiful car sitting in the bottom of a ditch gathering dust. We had reached the limit and passed it.

We couldn’t call for help. It wasn’t my car. So we improvised. We built a ramp with rocks, and pushing from behind and spinning the tires again, we drove it out. Not a scratch on it, if you didn’t count the scratches and dents you couldn’t see on the glass packs underneath. I drove home more carefully.

I didn’t tell my dad what happened that day until he was very old and feeble and couldn’t do anything to me anymore for what I had done that dusty summer day with his prize1966 Ford Fairlane GT, two-door coupe.

It didn’t start there. This is too deep; it goes back to my childhood. I loved riding in my stroller — I must have — it is deep in us, this thing for movement.  We moved in our mothers, and kicked too. When we came out they rocked us and carried us and drove with us and pulled and pushed us on wheels. I loved being pulled in my little red, metal and wood wagon. Didn’t we all? When my babies were little and cried, my wife and I took them out for a drive and they slept, then it was “lift her carefully,”  keep her moving, slip her into the crib, tiptoe away – no one really wants to stop moving.  I pushed the girls fast in the driveway in their little plastic Little Tikes red and yellow coupe, sliding them sideways in the turns, laughing hysterically when they screamed with fear and delight.

We took the girls to Disneyland, lots of wheels. They loved Disney’s Autopia. It was the first freeway they drove on. One Christmas when I was little, we got a little electric race car set. The bright little cars rode on tracks, fast. They screamed down the straights and if pushed too hard flipped into the air on the turns and rolled across the carpet. Sometimes I’ve thought that my love of cars came from my dad, but I can’t blame it on him. I think the thing with wheels and speed goes deeper than that.

I saw a deer last week, looking at me steadily from a wooded refuge in the Laguna Mountains as I sat in my friend’s Porsche Boxster watching her. Throwing her head and the front of her body to the left, the graceful doe made a body leaning, leg thrusting turn and in a moment of hide-blurring acceleration, disappeared into the trees. We turned and spun off too and were soon flying down Sunrise Highway with the top down. Living things love to turn and accelerate. Our love of speeds is genetic, deep, the need to flee, the joy of speed, the thrill of the pursuit. Wheels were invented to make work easier, and for fun.

My first skate board was a piece of wood on steel wheels. I remember hitting a rock, I launched, my body continued in the direction I was headed but my board remaining stubbornly behind. I rode it on the huge wooden porch on the back of the chapel at the campground, down the porch the sweeping, body leaning turn, kick the leg and fly again, back the way I had come, not very far from where I kissed my first girl. Wheels and girls have long had close proximity to each other, because girls like wheels as well as boys, and wheels changed the dating patterns of the American teenager. With wheels, they could get away and be alone.

When I was in the ninth grade I got out of the house for a Saturday evening with my brother. It was great fun, fueled by alcohol, gasoline and hormones. We cruised through town in my brother’s 327 inch, 350 house power Chevy Malibu. It got crazy when in the zone between cool cruising and an all-out, high speed stomp. I was in the backseat with his girl friend when we crossed a shallow ditch, ploughed through a front yard lawn, exited just to the left of a telephone pole and re-entered the street in the wrong lane. Whooohooo! It was better than bicycles and skate boards. I learned  a lot from my brother.

When I was 16 I got my first truck, an old, classic 1954 Ford pickup. My dad helped me paint it a deep maroon. We painted the steel wheels white. I loved that truck. It had a stick shift on the column and a light rear end. That meant that when you popped the clutch with the engine revved, the rear tires squealed, the truck vibrated up and down, and then it shot off with a wildly mechanically stressed six-cylinder roar. I felt cool in front of the girls that I was afraid to talk to.

My next car was a 55 Chevy two-door hardtop. It was a six cylinder powerglide automatic, a good car for a teenaged boy. My dad helped me split the exhaust manifold so we could put a dual exhaust on it and make it cool. My dad cut the manifold with a welding torch, welded the ends closed, and hooked up pipes and glass packed mufflers to each half. The six sounded sweet with twin pipes, but it was a ruse — no pavement ripping take offs here. The transmission only shifted once. Do the math. But a car is a car and over time you could get this sheet metal beauty up to several dangerous speeds. One day, driving fast because I was late to work at the grocery store, I passed the car in front of me only to realize that when we were side-by-side on this narrow two-lane highway, another car appeared around a corner ahead, coming toward us head-on, in the lane I was in.

I braked hard. The car I was passing shot ahead. I tried to pull in behind it and then I was sideways, sliding down the road sideways at 70 miles per hour, in the ditch, bouncing to a sudden halt, my hands shaking, nothing hurt on me or the car. I drove very carefully on to work, feeling like the car might slide out of control again any minute. That cautious feeling lasted for a couple of weeks. This is how it is with cars, a dance in and out of safety. When Ford first put seat belts and padded dashes in cars people complained. “You’re making us feel unsafe.” Ford took them out.

We drag our wrecks away us and put them in the parts of town we don’t see so that we don’t think about torn and twisted sheet metal. Yesterday, I was down by the wrecking yard in our city. You get there on Nirvana Street. It’s isn’t nirvana. A huge arm could be seen above the fence, bent crooked over a giant pile of fenders and grills. It descended on them with a claw hand, picked up the remains and moved them to another pile with a terrible grinding and crashing. What seduces us one year, repulses us the next. A wreck isn’t fun.

I’ve been in a number of car accidents. In South Africa we practically destroyed one of the mini-vans we rented, small event at a time. We broke the windshield hitting a rock, we ploughed into the back of another car in Mbabane, Swaziland on a rainy night and bashed the front bumper, and we popped a tire while driving through the Pilanesberg Game Reserve in South Africa. We were like Dean and Jack again, bashing the Cadillac in Chicago, hydrants bent over, the “fenders stove in.” We teased that we’d have to buy the van when we returned it.

The flat tire in the reserve was interesting. One of our South African friends told us that some Japanese tourists had gotten out of their car in a game park and gotten eaten by a big cat. It sounded like a game park myth, but we had gotten the point and we knew the drill, “Don’t get out of the car.”

But what do you do? The tire went flat, no one came along. The mobile phone didn’t work. We took action. We looked in the owner’s manual, nothing about changing a tire when the big five are present. So the driver and I improvised and made pit stop work of it. For a safety net we posted our wives at either end of the car to watch. We figured the cats would get to them first that way and we could get back in the car. It worked; we were rolling again soon, past the elephants ripping up a tree, past the graceful giraffes, past the wart hogs rooting in the ditches, past the crocodiles lying by the lake and past a white rhino herding her baby across the dirt road. Now there is danger.

I loved that drive. We came to the end of the park as the sun was setting in brilliant golden racks of clouds. It rained. I love our cars that day. I will always remember rolling through the park in the BMW sedan, the sunroof open, “How Great Thou Art” playing on the stereo, the animals peering at us from the bush. Good, all good.

I’ve had so many good rides, rolling in the back of a big tour bus through the hills of Tuscany, Italy with Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli singing “The Prayer” on the CD player. The Old Road to Rio, the blue water, the green jungle, the white sand beaches, then the freeway in the city where we traveled in total chaos, no observed lanes, no signs, just a huge mass of sheet metal moving through a tremendous cloud of exhaust fumes. Missing our exit we pulled of the freeway into the only place to pause, the front yard of a house. A policeman on a bike gave us a ticket. What a hoot! Then there was the little black taxi in Oxford, England where we threw our bags in the back and climbed into the little bench seats beside them. I loved the cruise up to Idyllwild in my black 300 ZX, scooting around the corners, powering down the straights, t-tops off, engine wound up, CD player loud, it doesn’t get much better than that. Then there were the one-lane bridges in Kauai, rolling past theTaro fields of Hanalei, arriving at the beach in the jungle at the Na Pali Coast to snorkel in the beautiful blue ocean with the yellow butterfly fish. Driving is a tour to and through the beauty. I love the road up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I love the drive down through King’s Canyon in Sequoia. We all have a road that we love.

But at its thumping, pulsing heart best, driving is social. We drive in cars with people we love, we eat in our cars with the people we love, we talk and laugh and point and get bored on long trips in our cars with the people we love. And each time we drive down the road, each and every time,  we are going out with our community, we are mixing it up with all the people who for one choice or another happen, at that precise moment, to be going shopping, going to work, going to eat, going to see their mom or dad or whoever. These dear ones are our fellow travelers, our entourage, our car club, our fellow wheel devotees. We caravan with them, flowing at similar speeds as them, slowing for them, stopping for them, waiting for them to turn, weaving around them, yelling as they cut in front of us, being waited for by them as we make our turn. We endanger the ones we travel with just by being out there and we drive to protect the group that we travel with by staying clear of them. And we trust that every driver we move down the road with will protect us, stay in their space, obey the road rules, do predictable things and they trust that we will. They don’t, and we don’t — some of the time. We say things and make gestures and hate big SUV’s and little sports cars and fight with traffic and hate road improvements that we will later love and drive serenely on. And sometimes we give ground at an intersection, letting the other car go first, and  we offer a small wave and a smile that passes through two windshields, and in those sane moments of wheeled civility we actually care for our community and we love them.

This week while I was driving down a street in an industrial area I saw a good sized rock lying in the street. I rolled by, felt uncomfortable, turned a corner, spun a u-turn and went back. I wanted to keep an accident from happening. I pushed my emergency flasher, got out, and picked up the rock, except it wasn’t a rock. It was a piece of soft foam like you’d find in a couch cushion. I tossed it past the sidewalk and it bounced softly along the ground. Nothing new here. I got it wrong. No, I didn’t, for I was thinking of the other drivers.

Do we, think of the others? We do, and we do not. We are aghast at what British Patroleum has done to the ocean. But if we drive we are confederate in making things like the Deep Horizon event happen. I hate pollution. I love the rumble of a hot V6 or a big V8. I am ruining the world for future drivers.  I am thinking about the next car I want to buy. When I fill up, I pump oil into the ocean. I hate that. I keep doing that. I am growing  disillusioned with the internal combustion engine. I’ll drive an electric car, if it goes fast and far.

A few years I went to the junk yard to find a chrome tip for one of the dual exhausts on my Mazda RX-7. Some things never change, chrome tips, speed, the use of oil, repairs. It was an eye opener. I saw my car there, many times over. The thing is, it didn’t look so good, the deep layers of dust on the hood and the dash, missing tires, a gaping hole where the door should have been, no hood. Missing pieces changes the look of things. One particular beauty had grass and weeds growing out of the rotted floor board, extending out through the opening for the missing windshield. So this is what it comes too, weeds blocking the view out through the windshield.

The guy leading me through the maze of cannibalized cars stopped to speak to an employee. He said very clearly and carefully, “If I hear any more death threats from you I am going to call the police.”

While I was later waiting at the cash register, to pay for my junk, I kept glancing around the room, anticipating something weird would happen. I imagined a gun in the bosses’ top desk drawer. Cars can bring out the worst in us.

It’s interesting, death threats among the junk. “You little rotters!” Seduction then abandonment and rage.  Here it was in front of me again, what I loved was being obscured by danger and dust.

I drove home reflective.

Yet something remains. I will always love to move. Getting old sucks because I wil begin to go slower and then I will stop where there is no stop sign. But even there at that point of motionlessness, I believe I will move on, without the wheels or maybe with them.

The prophet Ezekiel saw wheels.

“As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about as the creatures went.”

Strange, wheels intersecting wheels, beside living creatures. This is a picture of the future, there will be wheels, we will keep moving, the way we face. I am in love with the visions of our friend Ezekiel, I love the living creatures and the sparkling custom wheels, I love the four possible directions, the anticipation of the turn and the bound, the wind carressing the body, the blur at the edges of the vision, the quickly narrowing focus forward, the flying to somewhere different fast — I believe and put my faith in just this thing.

It’s the hope for us, the thrilling, soon coming blast forward.