Friday, December 26, 2008

The Old F O R D

The one I fell in love with—a 1976 Ford F150 Super Cab.

This is the one. The one I learned to drive. The one whose tailgate I caved in. The one whose starter failed countless times in parking lots, but never on the back roads. It hauled firewood, mulch, canoes, and countless apartments full of junk. This is the truck that my father owned, but I loved.

It had a four-speed transmission, power steering, power breaks, and an extended cab—which the guy on TV made it longer by puling effortlessly on the tailgate. How clever. Did it collapse the same way? I was ten, and I wanted it.

Dad had bought it for his tree business so there were no extras. Pick-up trucks in the days before the SUV were utilitarian. Everything was optional. Dad opted out.

There was no AC. If it was hot, you put the windows down or you rode in the back with the dogs. Cold? Wait until the engine warmed and turn on the heat. Seat warmers? We would use old seat cushions from hunting season. The Lava Buns brand worked the best. And there was no radio.

Between here and there we talked when we drove. If my grandfather or my uncle were with us, they would tell stories about York County and childhood. If I was with the guys from the tree crew, I was privy to the kinds of filth—that when repeated later in the school year—would earn me the awe and respect of the 8th grade school yard, and the wrath of Sister Anna. If it were only me and Dad, I would be subjected to his stylings of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. His truck. His rules. My penance.

Dad had others over the years—newer, smaller, sportier models that had better curb appeal, but the green Ford was my favorite.

When I moved to Seattle he offered it to me. “Take it across country,” he said.

I didn’t. After working all of those years, I denied the Ford one last road trip. I was too proud. I wanted to start fresh and leave home behind. And now that I see it sitting next to what once was the Big Trout Inn on 144, I feel that I let it down.

There would have been back roads, dirty jokes, and renditions of “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Midnight Rider." Gas was cheap. We would have made it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Last Day

This is the closest thing I’ll get to the peace of riding until the spring thaw.

Today is the last day of deer season in Pennsylvania and the back roads near my father’s house are filled with hunters. Pick-up trucks and men in safety orange prowl the gravel lanes and fire roads that push deep into the backsides of local the townships and state game lands. These are the roads that I like to find on the bike.

Last night brought the kind of weather that leaves a quarter-inch of ice on the trees and a crisp white crust on the ground. The deer, now deep in the stands of hemlock waiting out the cold, will not move until later in the afternoon—if at all.

I didn’t spend a lot of time hunting when I was a kid. Something about predawn hours in the damp and bitter cold kept me in doors until the sun warmed the day. And to be truthful, the idea of killing an animal frightened me. Even today, it is something that I do not take lightly, and I occasionally argue with myself about the ramifications of my act.

But in the end the bitter beauty of a cold December morning—along with the promise of fresh venison—outweighs my reservations. On still days like this I sit and wait, watching the sunlight play on the landscape, hoping for deer, and enjoying the solitude.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ghost Buildings

Traveling through small towns, I find the remnants of old buildings. Some the victims of neglect, arson, or worse—gentrification. They remind me of the faded wall signs advertising local hardware stores. At one point relevant, but now re purposed and forgotten. Replaced by box stores and townhouse living.