Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jesus Is Lord Truckstop

Audio File / Podcast

“You’re not going to find any garages open on Labor Day.”

The guy at Pilot Truckstop off I-40 on the east edge of Amarillo and just south of the airport was polite but glum.

I was glummer.

Three nights before, in the dead of night, I watched as one by one each major system in my car failed, finally leaving me on the side of the road with not even enough battery power to flash the emergency lights.

Coyote. Armadillo. Rattlesnakes soaking up heat on the still-warm asphalt, then squished by a fast-moving semi on the short-cut-without-weigh-stations to Denver.  I could have been road kill, too, except for miracle of miracles – I could get a cell signal.

It was a brush with death and I knew it.  Now my “check engine” light was on, and the last thing I wanted was to be caught on the side of the road again – this time with 105 degree heat and no cell signal.

I formulated plans. If I could not find a mechanic to see what was wrong with my car, I’d rent a car at the airport, then drive it to Oklahoma, and then I’d return next weekend to collect the car (or trade it in for something).

“There is the “Jesus Is Lord” truckstop two miles back east on the way to Oklahoma City. They have a mechanic who works on just about anything.”

“Great! Maybe he works on holidays,” I said.


The “Jesus Is Lord Truckstop” was a 70s time capsule that had not withstood the ravages of 115 degree summers and 5 degree winters. The asphalt was cracked, and you had to pay in advance for gas. At first I wondered if it were open. While the Pilot Truckstop had been an anthill of activity, the Jesus Is Lord truckstop had only one car in the parking lot, and a woman wearing pants and a dark t-shirt smoking next to the back door.

I parked carefully and approached the building. The windows had been covered with white butcher paper, each one with a different Bible verse.

I John 1:5: This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

Three nights ago, the prairie had been horribly dark, except for the full, full moon. The moon was full again the next night. They called it a “blue moon,” but I did not bother to find out what “blue moon” meant.

Darkness is what has defined me year after year. Not that anyone else really sees it. It’s just my entire consciousness is all about detecting the darkness as it threatens to encroach, and then, anticipating its crushing blow, proactively going to battle with the darkness.

What I did not realize is that it made me dark. 

How so? Well, all I had to do was to listen to my inner voice to see just how far the darkness had taken me over.

“Susan. You’re doing well right now. At least that’s how it looks on the surface. It’s all an illusion, though. We both know that we’re on the edge of a collapse. That would be okay, but, thanks to your performance in the past, everyone expects you to perform at the same level, plus 10 or 15 percent. How are you going to pull it off? You can’t. So. Run NOW before it’s too late, and before you’re utterly humiliated and laughed at—or, worse – reviled.”

It would be nice to blame the oil bust of the 1980s and say that’s what pushed me to darkness.
But, I would say that it started long before that. I remember changing majors after receiving the Outstanding Freshman in Chemical Engineering award. It was all about fear and being convinced that I would fail – thus being humiliated. I often wonder what might have happened if I had continued… I was working in membrane ultrafiltration … could I have been a part of a solution to water problems?

Affordable desalination? Purifying produced water to the point that it could recharge aquifers, be released to surface impoundments, and even be bottled / sold as potable water?

If we could find out how to desalinate affordably enough, we could transform Africa. I’ll never forget speaking with a young mother in Mozambique who had spent most of the afternoon hauling dirty water from a distant pond in order to provide water for her family for a few days. I am quite sure that they did not waste their valuable firewood to boil the water.

My fears have pushed me to the dark side.

There is no doubt, I’ve been there for years, but the last 10 have been, in a word, BLANK. They have been filled with pressure and the need to formulate one, two, twenty contingency plans. Most of those plans were not worth the paper they were written on, especially since they required me to do whatever twitched with life, no matter how absurdly out of synch with my interests and expertise they might be.

But here I was at the Jesus Is Lord truckstop in Amarillo, Texas. I am smiling. There are tears in my eyes. Does anyone see how lonely I am? How the last years have been a blur of 24-7 work, with the soothing and preoccupying metamorphosis of technology as my only constant companion.

I pushed open the door and was greeted by row after row of merchandise, as well as a small snack area and grill. This truckstop had all the requisite elements of a full-fledged truckstop, but it was on a shoestring. There was something rather touching about the effort that was made.

“Dennis is at the auto parts store, but he’ll be back soon,” said the cashier.

I pulled my MacBook Air from my car, returned to the café section of the truckstop and started to work on a few articles that were behind deadline.

Anything to keep my mind off the very real possibility of being stranded here or in the middle of dry, drought-stricken, middle-of-nowhere depopulated Texas and Oklahoma.

A leathery-faced guy with a long ponytail and a bandanna, wearing jeans and a workshirt came into the restaurant. I jumped up, extended a hand, and introduced myself. He went out to my car. I popped my hood, and he left briefly to retrieve tools.

“You’re fine.  Just a bit low on coolant,” he said. “What happened is that your battery was so dead that the electrical systems shut down. The computer was not reset – and, it records things, but does not actually control anything. You’ll be okay a soon as you get an oil change.”

We talked for a few minutes and, for some inexplicable reason, I felt an intense wave of emotion.

I walked slowly back to the grill area of the truckstop.

Young employee with fashion-forward glasses and ear plugs walked up.

“Dennis is our chaplain,” he said.

I glanced again at the butcher paper in the windows:

I John 1:5: This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
Flash of light in the dark road I had been traveling for years – at least 20 years, if I am honest with myself.

Wasn’t it about time to change the tapes I played in my head? Wasn’t it time to stop scaring myself with apocalypse, and look simply at the reality that our creator is light – pure, hot, clear light. There is absolutely no darkness – no fear, no self-reprisals, no self-harming, no self-punishing.

I had a lot to think about on the long road back home.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Trevor, This Is What Happened in Amarillo

podcast / mp3 file

About 300 miles into the trip, I noted with annoyance that my air conditioner, which had been breaking down about once every two weeks all summer  (and of course, the one summer when the temperature was over 110 degrees F for a solid week) had started to feel a bit warmish. It was 10 pm, a cloudless night, with a glaring full moon.

Pantex, the nuclear bomb manufacturing facility lay just a few miles behind me, and I was quickly approaching Amarillo. To ease my frustration, I focused on the audio book I was listening too – a tawdry novel about rogue CIA agents. It was not something I would buy, but Dr. Collier, our family dentist and former president of the Oklahoma dental association, and now long retired, lent it to my dad. Both Dr. Collier and my dad lost their sight. My dad lost his temporarily due to complications from glaucoma surgery. I think Dr. Collier lost his eyesight due to diabetes. I don’t know. He did not seem to fit the profile. He was tall and lean, and I always think of diabetics as having lifestyle challenges: a hankering for Indian tacos, Taco Bell drivethru fare, and 1,000-calorie frappucinos from Starbucks.

I always admired Dr. Collier. He was very successful as a dentistd yet he was always modest, and his small three-bedroom ranch-style house, while respectable, never called attention to itself. I was rather glad that my dad was not listening to the audiobook Dr. Collier lent him. I think it would embarrass my dad. It reminded me of a movie from 1967 – the year the movie ratings were introduced and Hollywood officially embraced sex and violence.

I cracked the window and felt the flow of warm, dry Panhandle air. My first job after I graduated from college with a B.S. in geology was in Amarillo. I was a petroleum geologist for Diamond Shamrock, and I had a lovely office, a great salary, and a brand new Audi 5000 Turbo, which I had purchased with profits from my little business. I bought oil and gas leases on prospects that seemed to be likely to have oil and gas production, and then I would sell the prospect (geology plus leases) for a profit. I retained an overriding royalty interest. Fun fact: some are still producing  --  25 years later. Granted, the checks are small – but now that the price of oil is relatively high, they’re not bad – $500 or so.

Amarillo always gives me a deep, expansive feeling.

The drive to Dumas is a little edgier – no cell signal for most of it, thanks to the arroyos and other rugged terrain features near the North Canadian River. Highway 87 can be very nerve-wracking – it’s a kind of weigh-station-free zone for truckers headed to Denver from Dallas. So – it’s not uncommon to see semis going side-by-side 80 mph – heaven help the ordinary mortals driving boring Toyotas and GMC SUVs.  One year seemed to be “Coyote Tragedy” year – so sad to see so many coyotes on the side of the road, as dead as an armadillo.

Little did I know that I would join the fallen coyotes, and I would be nervous suddenly about my reawakened mortality. Oh my. You’d think I’d welcome the experience especially since I like to fly, fly, fly into another consciousness, the one I like to call my Panhandle Consciousness, where I blend my mind and my heart with the dominant ethos – that of Mexican-origin Spanish speakers, and then the cool wonderful culture of the yuppie second generation – ambitious, yet with a heart. That resonates with me.

But, I did not enjoy the experience of watching as, one by one, every system light came on, while the lights started to dim, the CD player skipped, and it became very hard to steer the car.

My car is a 2004 Subaru Outback. I bought it after I had moved from Oklahoma to Guilderland, New York (near Albany), and I felt very nervous about relying on my Volkswagen Passat, which was being repaired after having been in a catastrophic accident that should have killed me, but did not. My Volkswagen Passat was a 5-speed, and I was not too adept at changing gears. The accident occurred as I was heading home after work. It seemed like a destiny thing. There is no way that I would have been able to handle the Passat in upstate New York. Too many hills, too much ice. I needed something more maneuverable. I found that very thing in NY as I surveyed the parking lots of malls, supermarkets, convenience stores, and office complexes, to see what most people drove Hands down, it was a Subaru Outback. So, that’s what I pursued. My mom and dad were happy to help me negotiate in Norman – and, I’m glad they did. Subarus in Oklahoma sold for roughly $4,000 less than in upstate New York. Call it supply and demand. I called it a relief.

As you can see, I don’t really want to tell you what happened in Amarillo. It makes me cringe.

Okay. To get back to the story --as I approached Amarillo, the lights indicating problems started to flash – battery, power steering, anti-lock brakes, the different lights, etc.

What should I do? I thought of a relaxing weekend in Amarillo at a good hotel near the airport.

Long story short: 12 miles south of Dumas, the car came to a complete halt. It was not pleasant. It was dark and lonely. There was a miracle moment, though: my cell phone worked. I was able to get a signal in an area that usually has nothing. So – I was able to call and be rescued. 

I’ve been forced to look in the mirror and examine my patterns – thinking and behavior. It has not been easy. I am a chronic self-doubter and a runner.  It is no coincidence that I did my dissertation on the apocalyptic narrative.  I’m riddled with doom and gloom and prognostications of mass death. It is very exhausting.

When you were doing a lot of hiking in the Nevada mountains, did you ever worry about car trouble?  Breakdowns?

This is an abrupt end, but this is to be continued.