Athena's Web Weekly Column
Week of May 14th - May 20th, 2010
On the road to Shambala
Gerry thinks I'm crazy. Drive across country when I could fly? Where's the sense in that?
Reflecting on his sentiments days later while in route I had to admit, he might have a point. This perspective was gleaned while getting out into the rain-whipped winds for the fourth time that day to fill the tank on the VW, left hand thrust deeply into a pocket while the right reluctantly but tightly clutches the cold damp steel grip of the gas hose. The storm gusts whip all about, ignoring the horizontal shelters overhead, pushing both underneath and through the corrugated protections, chasing one's body heat whimpering across the western plains.
Held captive by the moment I look around at the bleak landscape, the surrounding fields uniformly broken to the plough. Trees seem to be at a premium and are in short supply. Lisa calls it a wasteland, devoid of both nutrition and sense (unless you're into fast food), but I love the open country with the different scenic textures and hues each state has to offer.
While dealing with Dad's estate in Mass, I realized the need for a vehicle and flew back to Santa Cruz to spend some time with Lisa and drive back out my '77 VW Transporter (bus). For five days we bought food and provisions in anticipation of the trip, while I vacuumed, cleaned, re-organized and prepared everything to go. The little Buggy was washed and waxed in anticipation. She looked good! The peace symbol on the back door and the Dharma Logo from the TV series LOST was in the front windshield. Lisa printed it out before I left and we laminated and centered it as best we could. No other decals adorn the bus. No Gratful Dead, no Jerry Garcia and no obligatory Dead Head bumper stickers are to be seen. Even the VW logo on the front is missing.
It's been a few years since I've set out across country behind the wheel, and the first time the Buggy has dared the trip. Last year we took out the middle seat and Lisa had a bed built in it as a birthday present. The point was to day-trip California together; but it's a big leap to go from San Francisco and Big Sur to the Pacific and Atlantic. After all, there's one or two things that could go wrong with a 33 year-old vehicle.
Leaving Lisa behind to finish out her teaching semester, the first couple of evenings were uneventful. An easy seven hour trip to LA brought a visit with an old friend and then on across the desert to Phoenix and another friend. Through the mid-section of the country I'm on my own.
As I travel, I watch my Astro*Carto*Graphy lines. The border where Oklahoma and Missouri come together is my 'Pluto on the MC' line. Among other things, Pluto on the MC is where you can have power struggles with authority figures.
Stopping at the Missouri Welcome Center, the local weather forecaster's digital display is announcing tornado watches from Kansas City to Oklahoma City to Saint Louis.
My trajectory, precisely.
Lisa later told me that a tornado touched down in Yukon, Oklahoma (she learned from the Internet), and took off the roofs of one of the Love's Truck Stops shortly after I had gone through the area. Now, I don't know if you've ever driven an old VW bug or a bus, but they tend to be subject to the 'Will of the Winds'. VW bugs were designed to be forced down onto the road by wind-blasts, but the buses are just a big old box on wheels, like a sail in the wind. They respond to the slightest gusts. On two lane roads when a semi goes by you can find yourself suddenly driving in the break down lane.
"Well, I guess we'll drive over here for a while," is the usual compromise.
A few miles after crossing out of Oklahoma into Missouri on I-44, I noticed a state trooper in my rear view mirror. It was the incessant red and blue flashing lights that gave him away. After pulling over, I watched as he got out of his cruiser and made his way over to my passenger side door where I dutifully rolled the window down and talked to him.
Now, I'm no welter-weight, but this guy's chest was about twice the size of mine and he looked like he'd just won some bench-pressing contest. His buzz-cut, professional questioning and incessant focus on anything that might be visible inside the Buggy were noteworthy.
He logically explained how my driving had appeared erratic and since his vehicle wasn't being pushed around as much as mine was, he decided to investigate.
What could I say? Guilty as charged.
After asking for driver's license and registration (carefully observing the inside of my glove box as I opened it), he asked where I was going, which involved a long story, a funeral and two coasts, but I took a deep breath and began. About a sentence into it, he stopped me short, asked me roll up my window so he could hear better, and then asked me to step into the cruiser where he had me start all over again, this time transcribing everything I had to say into his mounted laptop, probing, checking and going back over my responses. While not asking me to open anything for further investigation, he did ask about the areas he couldn't see into, like what was in the rear under the blanket, what was under the back seat, and how long I'd owned the vehicle, etc. After keeping me at this for some ten or fifteen minutes (he kept getting the coasts backwards, thinking California was the family homestead), he said, there's one more thing he wanted to check and started to get out of the vehicle, at which point I followed suit and began to do the same.
"No, you sit there in the cruiser!" he said authoritatively.
Who was I to argue?
He got out, went over to the Buggy, carefully got down on one knee, bent over and looked at the undercarriage. He was checking for any fresh construction where compartments could have contained drugs or other contraband (like illegal aliens?). Not finding anything, he came back to the cruiser, checked his laptop and probed my story a little more, making a few final encryptions.
Finally, while looking at his notes he off-handedly said,
"So, are you a LOST fan?"
At which point I crack up and start laughing, because he's the first one on the entire trip to ask me about it, and I tell him so.
"We've only made it half-way through season five, but I'm looking for a white lab coat to catch people's attention while I drive around in this thing."
"Nobody's going to mistake you for Hugo," he responded with just the slightest hint of a smile.
"You can go," he says, and hands me back my California license.
And so I did, cruising down the open road and continuing to be buffeted about by the winds all the way to Columbus, after which the weather dramatically improved.
(Can you pick out Hugo from the line-up?)