trees

I don’t know why
The trees grow so tall
And I don’t know why
I don’t know anything at all
But if there were no music
Then I would not get through
I don’t know why
I know these things, but I do
— the prophet colvin

“Am I the only friend you have who loves trees?” Mo asks.

She has vetoed my table at the microbrewery in favor of the long row facing the window, giving her a view of the tree across the street next to the hostel. She asks if I’m cold sitting there. I lie and say no. She gazes out contentedly.

It’s been one of those days. We had set out for the Canyon del Grande to shoot photos of Rudolph and the Rubber Duck Piñata, but ended up in Flagstaff instead. We always end up in Flagstaff instead.

We ran on the Buffalo Trail. I am STILL yet to run into Sara Hall or Jim Walmsley or any of the elites who live and train here. I constantly practice my nonchalant nod in case they go by, but today it’s limited to a like-minded group of slow but earnest runners, bundled up against the piercing wind as we go along the magical dirt loop. “This is such a great trail,” Mo says. “We MUST move here.” We say that every time we visit. And still, we haven’t. Maybe.

It’s cold, which means constant visits to coffee shops. As opposed to when we’re here when it’s warm, which means constant visits to coffee shops. Macy’s is declared the official winner of the coffee-offee. They have taken down the bulletin board outside that we used to constantly vandalize. I pretend we’re not the reason.

I ask Mo why the thing I’m eating is called coffee cake. “Because you eat it while you drink coffee,” she says. Mo’s ass is very smart indeed. I point out I’m actually drinking water. She proceeds to eat the rest of the coffee cake, given that she IS drinking coffee. Note to self: Never ask that question again.

We make the Tour de Downtown, going in art galleries and the world’s greatest fudge store, and end up at Beaver Street, where we sit now. She can’t decide between my beer and hers, so she drinks both. We sit as day turns into night and the trees become shadowy figures. It’s a good day.

Is she the only friend I have who loves trees? Yes, I tell her. But then, you’re the only friend I have.

But then, one’s just right. It’s all a matter of finding the right one.

I’m a lucky guy.

Except for my beer and coffee cake maybe …

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life

Life is like a piñata. Sometimes you get the crap beaten out of you with a stick. But then you get candy.

Here’s to life. Sticks and all.

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and then

Every new beginning
comes from some other
beginning’s end
— the prophet dan wilson

We threw the Rudolph costume and our Macy Thanksgiving Day Balloon into Junior, the new car. We staged an impromptu mini-road trip, through the Indian reservation near us, then to 8th Street in Tempe, the site of the old Sun Club and the land of fish tacos. We ended up in the quirky downtown neighborhood in Phoenix near work where art is everywhere. Mostly, we just drove, a time for shifting into a new friendship.

The new car seemed to like the trip just fine and didn’t complain that we’re sort of weird.

We stopped for an impromptu Thanksgiving meal of street tacos and a bottled coke. A homeless guy digging through the trash can commented that you don’t see that many reindeer at the food truck. We all laughed. People get caught up in Thanksgiving menus, but a taco with lime is truly something to be thankful for.

I suppose traditions are where you find them. Sometimes you find them in a box, where a friend has swiped a Rudolph costume from your failing newspaper and sent it to you from three states away for no particular reason. Sometimes they begin in a little Honda, with that new-car smell still floating about along with Wilco blaring from the stereo.

And sometimes it’s just two people and a balloon, discovering yet again that Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful you were lucky enough to find the perfect person to spend your life with. Red nose and all.

We are grateful indeed.

 

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eulogy

they had barely said hello
and it was time to say goodbye
goodbye …
— the prophet ani difranco

And just like that, it was over.

After 30 years, 245,000 miles and half of my life, we said goodbye.

It had become an endless exercise in futility, $500 here, $1,000 there. The cracked windshield was the last straw. Because of the rust, the body shop guy said it was almost impossible to replace, and prohibitively expensive. “It’s time,” said the guy who could have said yes and made a lot of money off me. With 7,000 bucks already invested recently and no end in sight to a long list of needed fixes, we reluctantly pulled the plug on life support.

I drove him to the SCC track for the millionth and last time, a fitting finale for the two of us. We parked in the usual spot and he waited patiently for me, with no idea of the fate that awaited. The next day, we drove to the car place. I left him there, the clear winner of my imaginary “Oldest Honda in the Lot” contest.

I patted him on the hood, wiped away a tear, and that was that.

I got my first Honda in 1978. Rick dubbed him Hondo, an homage to the mayor of Luckenbach. The little orange Civic died shortly after making the heroic trek from Austin to Phoenix, getting me to my new home with his dying gasp. He was replaced by this car in 1988. And now, the 2018 model takes over. The eighth year of decades seems to be my sweet spot for cars.

So now I have a new Honda. It has stuff like a “radio” and a “rear view mirror” and “cruise control” and “brakes” and other fancy accessories. It doesn’t leave a billowing cloud of white smoke when I pull away from a red light. It doesn’t require a screwdriver to pry open the gas cap cover. You can see out of the windshield. Technology has changed a bit in three decades. What’s an “airbag”?

But the new car wasn’t there when Mo said “I like your bike rack. It makes the car look less ugly.” Or the time we were on a little dirt road in the Four Peaks wilderness when the timing belt decided to snap. It wasn’t with me on the Dreamboat Annie Redux Tour when the brakes chose to disappear at the start of the screaming hairpin descent from the top of the Chisos Basin in Big Bend, sending my foot to the floorboard and my heart to my throat.

The new car wasn’t there when the agitated cop pulled us over, looked in the driver’s side window and sternly asked “Do you have Rudolph in there?” It doesn’t have a thousand safety pins from decades of races in every nook and cranny. It didn’t wait for us in the parking lot during our first date to the Ani show. It’s never seen the sun set at the Grand Canyon or the last copy editor walking out of the building.

And it wasn’t by my side for half of my entire life as a trusted ally in crime, taking me through my darkest days and my biggest joys.

The new car isn’t my buddy, my wingman, my protector, my security blanket. It’s just a car.

I suppose it’s part of the cycle of life. We live, we die, we move on because we must. Maybe I’ll name this car Hondo Jr. We will bond. New adventures surely lie ahead.

Still, it’s hard not to keep looking back in the rear view mirror. It’s a pretty amazing view.

Bye, friend. I’ll miss you.

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walking

You broke the silence to say, “You’re going to take care of me, right?”

I’m just a couple of miles in on the track when I get the text message from Chase. “Ummm, did you just try to charge $1,940.39 online to Best Buy?” Yikes. And that was that for today’s outing. Hours of panic and calls and changing account numbers and remembering the world isn’t such a safe place to live these days. But it’s just as well. I’m feeling haunted.

I just read it yesterday.  I’ve had moments of profound sadness in my life. Holding Ma’s hand for the last time. Saying goodbye to Austin. Embracing Mo as she sobbed uncontrollably for Sarah. But this may have been the worst.

I had no idea. The problem with being a recluse is you never talk to people. You don’t know what they’re thinking, what they’re experiencing. You compose stories in your head for people’s lives, not giving much thought as to whether they’re biography or fiction. And then one day, you learn the truth.

I guess it’s not so far removed from what I always imagined; it’s just so much sadder to see it told so eloquently, so honestly, so painfully. The blank pages were filled in, the puzzle pieces assembled. In the season of Hallmark Christmas movies, it’s a reminder that life isn’t like that. Life is real.

I’m not back on the trail, because the trail I’m frantic for doesn’t exist anymore.

I was never part of helping her find that trail. I could have been, but life has a way of getting you lost. Months become years, years become decades, decades become lifetimes. And then here we are.

I read it a hundred times, missed a couple deadlines, wiped away a few tears, and then. Mostly I’m numb. I don’t know what to say, what to do.

Are you still here, somewhere? Where?

The two of us struggle with the same horrible riddle, one that has no answer. I want to help, but I am helpless. I am in my own forest, equally lost.

Maybe her new start is for the best. New state, new family, new life. No Luckenbach moon to make her remember. No Marfa lights to reopen the wounds. Different isn’t always better, my old boss once said, but better is always different. Life isn’t a Hallmark movie.

What you thought was your trail isn’t there anymore. It’s gone. Don’t look for it, the same way you wouldn’t look for the dream you had last night. You are a human moving over the earth. This stretch of land will work the same as any other.

Mo and I will hang on to her spot in the desert. We’ll find a new trail. We will keep a candle burning for her. I will do better. I must. I probably won’t.

“Of course I’ll take care of you,” I said. “Okay.” That was all. We kept walking.

So wise. So painful. Sometimes walking is all you can do …

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life is funny, part 381

A thousand dollar car is gonna let you down
More than it’s ever gonna get you around
Replace your gaskets and paint over your rust
You still end up with something that you’ll never trust
— the prophets bottle rockets

That’s it, I declare to Mo. We’re done.

The battery in my car is dead. That was the last straw. Which is lucky, since straws are going to be banned soon.

It’s been a couple of months since I decided to opt out of the Sensible Decision of buying a new car, and instead getting my car restored. If everything is replaced, it’s a new car, right? Drive with confidence! No worries!

It was in the shop for a couple of weeks, and they replaced pretty much everything. What had started out as a $3,000 estimate ended up as a $6,300 item the social media kids would give the hash tag #um you know this car is only worth a thousand bucks, right? Damn kids.

But it’s my car. So I drove it out of the garage with confidence. New suspension, new motor mounts, new radiator, new all sorts of Weird Engine Parts I Never Knew I Had. And the air conditioner worked!

Until, of course, it didn’t. Two days later. Oh, well. It had been an enjoyable two days in a particularly hot Phoenix summer. I rolled down the windows and soldiered on. 6,300 bucks. At least That Was All. My budget to have the interior and exterior re-done had gone the way of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, but that was OK. The car was finally cured.

And then.

I went out the next day, and  the windshield was cracked. Like all the way across the windshield. As in overnight, for no reason. I shook my fist at the car gods. Why? What are you trying to tell me? Is THIS the sign from the cosmos that I should have just gotten a new car? Cosmos signs are hard to decipher, and I was always embarrassed by their sex-tip lists, so I’m on uncertain ground.

I figure what the heck. Runs fine with a cracked windshield. Life goes on.

And then.

I was driving late at night, and the engine started to rev uncontrollably. It’s the dreaded idler. Longtime readers will recall it’s been causing adventures for years. But now it’s worse than ever, making the car virtually impossible to drive. Although cars in virtual driving games always seem fairly easy to drive. I take it back to the shop.

The nice mechanic guy says not a problem. He’ll get that fixed and the A/C running. Nothing to it. A week later, he says it’s fine. I make it all the way from the shop to the first red light before the idle is so bad that I have to push it back to the shop. Advantage small car: Easily pushable. Apparently the fix-for-free option isn’t viable.

I can fix anything, he says. But it costs money. The Bottle Rockets chorus drifts through my brain.

Two weeks later, he calls. A measly 500 bucks. New idler and a hose for the air conditioner they hadn’t replaced earlier. Good as new.

So I’m now at $6,800. A new Honda Fit is around $17,000, and comes with such crazy extras as a radio and air bags. But at least I’m done.

Which brings us to a few days later. I get in the car to drive to the track for my morning run. I turn the ignition switch, and nothing.

That’s it. I’m so tired of never knowing if the car is going to start when I get in it. How does one go to Big Bend in a car that may double as a coffin (remember the time the brakes went out while going down the hairpin turns from the top of the mountain?) I’m a sentimental fool, but enough is enough. I tell Mo I’m finally done. She pretends to hide her relief. It doesn’t work.

But, I figure I need to get a battery anyhow to allow the car total embarrassment when I give it to the local public radio station.

The AAA guy drives up. WOW, GREAT CAR, he exclaims. SURE DON’T SEE MANY OF THESE AROUND. PEOPLE MUST DRIVE YOU CRAZY TRYING TO BUY IT ALL THE TIME, YEAH?

And then it hits me. It IS a great car. And it makes me happy. We’ve got money to pay cash for a new car painlessly, but I’ve never found a new car I wanted. I just want this one.

He puts in the battery, pats the hood, and drives off. I’m up to $6,950, roughly the cost of a year’s worth of running shoes. But for the first time in a while, I feel OK about it.

I google car interior people. I find a shop in deepest, darkest South Scottsdale and drive over to check them out.When I see the van across the street.

 

It’s totally a cartoon character. I can see Peppa Pig’s family piling into it for an outing. I LOVE THIS THING!!!

And it hits me. I love old cars. Maybe it’s from growing up on the farm, where trucks drive until they’re retired to the car graveyard in the pasture. Maybe it’s the Guy Clark stuff that works theory of life. Find something you like and stay with it.

I’ve always worried about what I would do if I got in a car crash and against all odds lived through it. I would have to buy a car. At least I know now where to look. I’m sure my mechanic could get it running. He can fix anything. It just costs money.

Today, I’m at the glass joint. New windshield, 250 bucks. So we’re up to $7,200. Still need interior, exterior (hello, Corpus Christi rust), a fancy radio (I hear they come with FM now), and a smattering of upgrades. Luxury items like a rear-view mirror.

I’m resigned now to paying more for my car than it would cost to get a new one. And I’m at peace with it. It’s my friend. And you can’t put a price tag on friends.

And if I ever get a new car, it’ll be an old van.

Life is funny …

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life with an artist, part 17

I ask mo if I can send the cat painting. “No,” she says. “It’s not done.”

I think I know how parents must feel with their kids. And copy editors with headlines, runners with their distances and poets with words. It’s never finished. You realize at some point you just have to let it fly away. But not yet. It’s not done …

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