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.