It’s two in the morning, and I step out of my office onto Main Street Small Town USA.
I take a few steps, and take a deep breath. The air feels like being back in college in Arizona. It was 100° this afternoon, or hot enough that a few degrees either way doesn’t matter. It was hot. Arizona hot. Now, it’s probably in the upper 70s, and there’s a cool breeze blowing down the street that’s probably in the lower 70s. But, its the smell. There’s a dampness on the air that could be the canals flooding the parks except it’s people running the sprinklers over their lawns.
Our town cop just drove past in his blazer, and it sounds like after turning at the end of the block, he is turning around.
To me, this kind of night feels like hope, like promise of adventure. It carries that collegiate sense of optimism. I remember in the summer in my youth, I’d hop on my Schwinn and go cruising neighborhoods, being both voyeur and dreamer – seeing how the other half, or another half, lives, and experiencing it vicariously from atop my bike. I’d cruise around for hours.
I want to do that now, but my town fits in less than a square mile, and there’s really no other half here that I want to be living. Looking east, there’s one other vehicle parked on the street – a work truck with naked rails and maybe a fifth-wheel bogey. Looking west, my pickup is the last vehicle until the streetlights end.
I’m the dreamer, here. I am one of the trendsetters. I’m one of the people taking incredible risks – at least at scale – to try to bring more to the town. I’m not neglecting the sacrifice and risk that a single parent takes just keeping his or her kids fed right now. The children are our future, and that’s serious, important work. But I think you understand the context. I’ve come from somewhere else; I know there’s a larger world out there. Things can be different. Things. Can. Be. Better.
But I still want to go riding my bike.
I miss that downtime, that dreamtime. That palpable risk and solo risk management of riding a bicycle unarmed through questionable places in a mega-urban environment. Or in a gated suburb. Roving guards. It’s still risk.
So now is when I feel it. One of the times I feel it. When I feel this gag around my neck, this noose. A chained collar that binds me here. No one escapes. Very few people escape rural America. Perhaps rural anywhere. And I know I can just pack it all in, take my last paycheck and move someplace else and start over. But a part of me would like to finish something, even as I realize how stupid that statement is as I write it, as I think it, as I say it out loud in my head.
This is LIFE that I’m typing about. Not a craft project nor an extension course. There’s no finishing anything here unless we’re talking about my dying here. I mean, I’m going to die someplace, sometime. Is “where” you die a significant criteria for life choices? Or are you simply choosing death and biding your time. I mean, really, does it make a difference? To me? Where I die? I mean, its not like I’m going to say, “Oh wait, can I do this again in Canada?”
No offense. I’m sure many of you are dying in Canada.
Okay, that WAS a cheap shot, AND it was funny.
But seriously, no offense. My point is people are going to die anywhere, and it doesn’t really make a difference after your dead. Maybe to your family and friends – I mean, I want my body to be found. I don’t want to be left for dead in the wilderness. And I’d like to die nobly. But again, I can’t choose my time. Only how I live, which comes back to the question of where I live.
I sniff the air again. I’m transported. I realize, I’ve already lived more adventure than most, even if most of it is a smaller scale. I’ve visited two different hemispheres for two weeks at a time.
… and then I, like, stopped typing. That probably is the biggest thing I can say that I’ve done. I’m a world traveler. Everything else fits under that bar somewhere. Still, that’s more than pretty much all of my friends who are not in military service. But now I feel like I’m bragging. Or justifying. And that’s not my intent, and not needed.
Racking the focus … I was considering the other day how its both powerful and frustrating to expand your child’s horizons. My horizons were broadened as a youth, and I have spent much of my life pushing those horizons, those boundaries further. But there’s only so much pushing. I can only push in one direction at a time, and the farther those horizons are, the more and more discrete are the directions I can choose.
So in many ways, I am writing about my defeat. I can’t GO every way I want to go. I can’t DO everything.
Like, I can’t go on an urban cruise tonight on my bicycle. I’ve already pushed way out too far in this direction over here. My circular horizon has this big point on it. Yes, from the air it looks like a stunted wafflecone ice cream. I could go for a bike ride, maybe tomorrow night, but it means traipsing all the way back from here, through the center of the circle, and pushing on some other part of my horizon.
I’m exhausted from today’s heat. I’m feeling lazy. Instead I will reflect on the fact that I’m typing on the hood of my truck in a movie set, one of those lonely little towns I used to drive through on my way to or from college from home, or when on a drive-about.
One of those set pieces I passed through during the filming of my life.
And I turn and walk west down the middle of the street, listening to the faint jangle of some chain on some fence post, the hum of air conditioners, the smell of bread baking somewhere on this relatively cool breeze, and I walk toward the darkness. Toward that place where the streetlights end.
Til the director yells, cut.