Friday, February 17, 2012

Sam Shepard-Wyoming (Highway 80 East)

The long haul from Rock Springs to Grand Island, Nebraska, starts out bleak. After two runny eggs and processed ham I hit the road by 7:00. It’s hovering at around nineteen degrees; light freezing snow and piss-poor visibility. Eighteen-wheelers jackknifed all along the high ridges between Rawlins and Laramie. Tow trucks blinking down into the black ravines. Through wisping fog, things loom up at you with chains and hooks and cranes; everyone inching along, afraid to drop off into the wide abyss. Just barely tap the brakes and the whole rear end slides out from underneath you. I’m trying to keep two tires on the shoulder in the chatter strip at about five mph hoping the ice will get dislodged between the treads. Only radio station is a preacher ranting from Paul – something about the body as a tent; “this tent in which we groan”. Same preacher segues into a declaration that, for him, 1961 was the absolute turning point where the whole wide world went sour. I don’t know why he landed on that particular year – 1961 – the very year I first hit the road, but he insists this is the date of our modern dissolution. He has a long list of social indicators beginning with soaring population then family disintegration, moral relaxation, sexual promiscuity, dangerous drugs, the usual litany. But then he counters it with the imperious question: “What must the righteous do?” As though there were an obvious antidote which we all seem to be deliberately ignoring. If we could only turn our backs on this degeneration and strike out for higher ground, we could somehow turn the whole thing around. It seems more political than religious. “What must the righteous do?” An “Onward, Christian Soldiers” kind of appeal. I’ve lost track of the centerline. Snow boring down into the windshield so fast the wipers can’t keep up. Your heart starts to pump a little faster under these conditions; not knowing what might suddenly emerge. Not knowing if the whole world could just drop out from underneath you and there you are at the bottom of crushed steel and spinning wheels. What must the righteous do?

from "Day Out of Days", published in 2010 by Knopf.

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