Memory Isn’t Dead, Chapter 5: Traffic

On the road, you can be moving along at a quick pace, say seventy-five miles per hour only to suddenly come to a slow standstill.

A standstill of five minutes that becomes ten that becomes fifteen that suddenly picks up again. It’s as if nothing happened. A path becomes clear. A dispersal of vehicles suddenly projecting forward to their destinations.

Only to come to a slow standstill five minutes later or an hour later or several hours. The pattern repeats endless until the destination is reached.

*          *          *          *          *

Another standstill.

In Pueblo, Colorado, the line of cars stretches endlessly before and behind me. At a snail’s pace, I creep forward in the line of cars.

Construction zone.

Time creeps forward as boredom sets in and exponentially grows.

Eventually, I approach the overpass, concrete barriers on either side create two stagnant lines of traffic. One northbound. One southbound.

And, northbound, there is no movement. My car sits unmoving as the southbound cars sporadically pass by, heading to their destinations.

Nothing moves northbound.

Time creeps forward.

Ahead of me, people begin to exit their cars and walk along the road between the cement barriers and the stopped vehicles.

Enough is enough.

I pull over to the shoulder of the road and maneuver around the caution cones. Approaching the exit ramp from the highway, I finally see the cause of my northward delay. An RV has stalled on the under-construction-bridge. Because of the concrete barriers, no one can move.

After exiting and returning to the highway beyond the stopped RV, I continue north, on a nearly empty highway, with miles of stopped cars behind me.

*          *          *          *          *

This is the second Jesus sign I’ve noticed. I don’t remember the words of the last one, but for some reason this sign sticks with me. It reads in large black and bold letters, “Truth, Jesus is the only way”.  

My first thought is not about how ridiculous the sign is. Truth, I muse. Is a story still true if it pulls from the mythologies of the countless religions that come before it?

Unlikely is an understatement. 

Rather, what’s true is that the story of the sign’s messiah is a piecemealed history of countless gods and demigods.

Ah, the power of basic research.

No, my first thought was of the number below the bolded message. Below the message is a number to call for more information.

Yet, that number contains more than ten numbers for a curious person to call.

How’s that supposed to work?  

*          *          *          *          *

Climbing inclines and coasting down valleys, a line of tan army vehicles passes me by, only to be passed by me as I climb the next hill in Colorado Springs.

Jet black smoke plumes from the exhaust tailpipe. A black cloud drifting into the clear, crisp air.

These are machines of death, machines of war.

I don’t know what they are called, nor do I necessarily want to know. But, I can tell where it’s weapon will sit, on the top of the cab, overlooking the terrain. I have seen enough of these vehicles in movies and shows to know how they operate, to know what they do.

Jet black smoke plumes from the exhaust tailpipe. A black cloud drifting into the clear, crisp air.

These are machines of death, machines of war.

How many people see these and feel pride?

Why?

I simply feel disgusted.

Jet black smoke plumes from the exhaust tailpipe.

*          *          *          *          *

Through mountain towns filled with ghosts of another life, I drive through Estes Park to arrive at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Settling in at the campsite with friends, the self-proclaimed Women of the Wild, the flames of the campfire rise up to the star-filled sky. Sounds of nature echo through the mountains, meshing with our statements of feminism, hope, change, and the rise of deceits and fears that led to the Brexits and Trumps of the world.

Memory Isn’t Dead, Chapter 4: Mountains

The farther I pull away from Albuquerque, the more the terrain becomes mountainous. In the distance, mountain peaks appear as hazy blue mounds.

They seem so small, these blue mounds. Yet, with their white snow-capped peaks, they must be of an incredible size.

Towering and imposing the closer you are, but for now, they seem almost painted in the background of the New Mexican landscape.

The road continues north, and the tales of New Crobuzon ramble from my car’s speakers. The road continues.

*          *          *          *          *

Coming to the border of Colorado, the hazy blue mounds sharpen into focus. The blues of the mountains reveal dark green forests hugging the sides of the mountains. From the dark green sides, grey peaks erupt above the tree line.

Within the grey rocky peaks, veins of snow trickle down to the tree line. Like white blood vessels or snowy capillaries, it seems almost impossible that in the ninety-five degree heat, water remains frozen, so near and, yet, so far away.

*          *          *          *          *

I’ve taken this route before, nearly a year ago. But, this time the road, a four lane highway shifts. Two northbound lanes of traffic become one. The one shifts onto the southbound highway.

It wasn’t like this before. It was an easy six hour drive the last time I drove to Denver. Yet, now, the road slows, crawls forward.

The views are simply breathtaking and beautiful, and at a slower pace, I can revel in the natural beauty of the mountainous terrain.

The crawl of traffic begins to pick up, and I finally see the reason for the crawl. Covering the northbound lanes of the highway are large white and tan boulders covering the road. Chunks of rocks with jagged edges block any passage through the northbound lanes.

After another mile or so, the flow of traffic returns to normal. Two northbound lanes flow at a rapid pace.

The road continues.

*          *          *          *          *

A lone windmill stands in a seemingly endless field. And, I remember the windmill on my grandparents’ old homestead. Near their lung-shaped pond, their silver windmill stood pumping well water into a stock tank, which would allow the grazing cattle to drink and when filled, would overflow into the catfish pond.

My brother and I spent weekends and summer days at the fishing hole. Casting out hope for a large bass or a catfish dinner.

As I watch the windmill to the east turn, I remember when, upon walking out to the pond one day, finding the metal basin riddled with bullet holes. While problematic for the cattle, our immediate concern was for the critters that we had plopped into the tank the day before.

We had spent our previous afternoon catching small bluegills, tadpoles, and infant turtles to watch them swim in the clear well water, freshly pumped into the basin. Fearing for the lives of our captives, we managed to grab all the small aquatic creatures and throw them back into the flooded pond before the stock tank drained.

I try, as my car continues northward, to remember what my grandfather was doing as my brother and I saved the young aquatic lives. I try to remember why the stock tank had been shot with holes. I feel like there was a story to it, but it seems like ages ago. I simply can’t remember.

*          *          *          *          *

A black Dodge Ram passes me, and I notice its decor and affiliations. A Kansas City Chiefs decal decorates the rear of the driver side and passenger side windows. And where a trailer hitch should be, a Confederate flag gleams.

I imagine the driver of this pickup proudly voted for the 45th president.

And, I am sure the individual driving would greatly disapprove of the vagina rocket attached to my vehicle, if they understood the symbolism behind it.

I am sure the driver finds no issues with exploiting Native American culture with the Chiefs decals. Yet, at least, they aren’t Redskins stickers, a mascot term that even Oklahoma has banned at its higher institutions of learning.

The Confederate flag scream white supremacist at me. As cities and towns across the south finally remove statues of Confederate leaders, this Dodge Ram owner celebrates an attempt at a country whose goal was to maintain the enslavement of an entire race of people. As the rest of the world began to denounce slavery and move beyond it, the Confederacy held firm, justifying their morally righteous views with their faith and the Bible.

Echoes from the past, haunt today.

Mountains slowly begin to come into a hazy blue focus again.

And, the road continues.

Memory Isn’t Dead, Chapter 3: Signs

Its neon lights once illuminated the night skies above my hometown.

Now, it leans against an oversized shed, nearly forgotten.

It wasn’t the original sign that once towered above my grandparents’ diner.

The original sign was faded brown, with the name of the restaurant on all four sides of the towering cube.

I wonder if any fragments of that sign remain.

The restaurant doesn’t.

It burned down a few years ago, but the memories didn’t.

The memories survived, rusted like the green and white sign before me.

Rusted, but still surviving.

*          *          *          *          *

The wind howls, and my car seems to lurch on the road, trying to maintain its course.

I don’t even bother to stifle my yawn.

I pop open another can of Coke, remembering how shocking it was to have a can explode as I drove down from the mountains a few weekends ago. I had set a lukewarm can of Coke in my cupholder, which would allow the AC to cool it down. I approached the cattleguard, and with no notice, my ears started ringing. I looked around panicked to find the source of the ear-splitting noise.

It sounded like a gunshot, but when I finally figured out the source of the explosion of volume, I was surprised to find the metal of my Coke can erupting upwards from the base of the can in violent protrusions of metal. Caramel colored liquid dripped onto the leg of my jeans, and I pulled my car to the side to reorient myself.

Although lukewarm, this can of Coke tonight does not explode.

It just provides the needed caffeine.

*          *          *          *          *

The plot that formerly held my grandparent’s restaurant now holds their building but not their diner. The building’s color almost resembles what once stood there, faded earthen colors, browns and yellows.

It matched the color of the towering wooden and brown sign that marked the old-fashioned burgers and ice cream served there.

A very different color scheme than the one it held after my uncle took irresponsibility of the burger joint.

A wide window now takes up the upstairs and can be seen as I pull up to the original and, at one time, only stoplight in town. Tables and chairs now sit up there, but it once held an arcade. It was once wall-to-wall pinball, Galaga, Yo-Yo Masters, Pac Man, and others.

Now, those bulky games are lost in time.

Forgotten.

*          *          *          *          *

I snapped a picture of my margarita to send to a few friends to let them know I had made it my sister’s graduation.

The room was a cacophony of voices. A long table for my family took up most of the dining room, but to the left of us held a bachelorette party. By the end of the dinner, my head would be pounding from the noise.

As I send the picture, my screen pops up with a message from my mom saying, “U better not be blogging”. I laugh and grin as I write my responses to her.

“So much blogging.”

“And . . . posted.”

*          *          *          *          *

Along I-40, there isn’t much to look at, and even if there was, I’ve taken this drive so many times that nothing pops out as interesting.

The towering windmills, the signs for the free 72oz. steak, and the numerous intermixed adult toy store and pro-Jesus signs have become commonplace by this point.

Yet, there is one thing that still stands out to me along the ten hour drive.

The trees.

In an empty and nearly barren field of grasses, patches of trees seem to sprout up in the middle of nothing. In any one field, it can be three lone trees together or batches of green too numerous to count. Yet, always, the trees seem lonely in a vast field.

How did these groves of trees thrive in such a barren field?

Why so few?

Why so many?

And, when I finally did it, when I finally came out as transgender, what landscape stretched out to the horizon as I drove down the highway?

For some reason, it bothers me that I don’t remember.

*          *          *          *          *

As I drive through my former town, I remember a piece I wrote for autobiographical writing in college where I called it “Tintown” and described it as located on “Dirtywater Lake”.

The description still rings true.

The small town looks almost exactly the same as when I lived and grew up there. The only difference is an added stoplight for the new grocery store and a McDonald’s. Everything practically stands still in time.

Unchanging.

Yet, as I drive over the bridge, I see the beauty of the water. Even though the lake is occasionally closed during the summer for toxic algae blooms, it still looks beautiful, especially now.

The edges of the water raised significantly, lapping at lawns, mere feet from someone’s home.

Memory Isn’t Dead, Chapter 2: Windmills

I wonder if I could hear a hum of wind and energy if I rolled my window down.

The silent beauty of towering white windmills dot the landscape and are the only attraction on the horizon as a setting sun dances with reds, pinks, and oranges across the sky.

Are these mammoth structures even called windmills, if there is nothing for them to mill?

Is the proper term, wind turbine?

Their solid white blades cut through the air.

I’ve grown used to them on this drive, but every time I rumble down I-40, more seem to pop up into existence.

Yet, I rarely see one being built.

They seem to just suddenly appear, multiplying, as if alive.  

*          *          *          *          *

I pull off the highway at the main Clinton exit.

A sign for the elusive Taco Mayo caught my attention, and I pull into the empty parking lot. It’s difficult to tell if the fast food Mexican joint is open, but I spot an employee leaning against the building sucking on a cigarette.

It must be open.

It was.

I pulled my car around the drive-thru and ordered my old favorite from my college freshman days, the #1, a grilled chicken burrito, spiced tater tots that are known as Potato Locos, and a large Coke.

Upon receiving my meal, I putted over to the nearest gas stations, which was located about a quarter of a mile from the highway.

As I filled up with the cheapest gas option, I noticed how old-fashioned and nostalgic the building was. It was retro. A combination new gas station with an attached Coney Island. The outside of the building was nearly all chrome-plated, reminiscent of an old Chrysler or some other American Graffiti-esque automobile.

On my way back to my car after a quick pitstop inside, I saw a familiar sign for the Route 66 Museum.

The familiar building brought back a flood of memories.

I climbed back into my car to drive away.

*          *          *          *          *

In the dark, the only thing visible aside from the immediate roadway are the blinking red lights atop the white, towering windmills.

There’s something almost alien about how they all flash at once.

A bright red light casting haunting shadows for miles at a split second pace.

The road feels impossibly unending, but the engine rumbles forward.

It is now well-past midnight.

And, yet, the road is still dotted with headlights.

Where are they all headed?

What kind of lives do they lead?

I really need another dose of caffeine.

*          *          *          *          *

It’s funny how different time seems.

My life in Oklahoma seems like an entire lifetime ago. Perhaps, in a way, it was.

But even something simpler, like a drive, can feel so different.

A ten hour drive today makes a three hour drive for a field trip to the Route 66 Museum feel like nothing now, but I remember it taking ages then.

I remember appreciating the museum.

It was neat, but we only went because as part of the A.P. English course. We read The Grapes of Wrath. I had dreaded reading the novel, mostly because I had hated The Pearl. I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed this outing with Steinbeck.

On the drive on backroads back to my school, I felt unpleasantly full from the double-meat chili cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake.

It’s funny, after over ten years, the memory stands out so vividly. Leaning against the side of the bus. Bored and ready to be back.

The bus was surprisingly silent, most of my classmates were either making out or asleep.

But at the time, I considered myself the lucky one because when a bus of girls drove passed, I was the only one to notice that they flashed us.

Memory Isn’t Dead, Chapter 1: Ghosts

There are a lot of ghosts on this road. Every inch of blacktop highway a memory. Rumbling engines bring these memories to a roaring life or a quiet fading.

*          *          *          *          *

I wonder how many people try the Big Texan 72oz. steak challenge. These signs for it are practically everywhere. Starting east to west, I remember seeing one almost at the Oklahoma/Arkansas border.

It makes you wonder. How many people see that sign and think, yeah, I bet I can finish that meal and not a pay a dime?

Even on my hungriest day, I could never do it.

I bet there’s a lot of wasted food from drivers passing through thinking they can do it. I bet every . . . wait . . . I know every restaurant wastes a lot of food.

And, yet, every night, people still go to bed hungry.

If that isn’t a sign that this country has a sickness, I don’t know what is.

*          *          *          *          *

You can tell a lot about a place from the gas stations you find there. Towers of food. Walls of soda and neon-colored slushies. You can tell a lot. What that is, I don’t know. But, it says a lot.

*          *          *          *          *

Thunder can’t be heard, but lightning illuminates the dark southern sky. It is impossible to see the horizon. Everything dark.

Then, the sky flashes and rolling plains become visible.

Beautiful.

The audiobook has been disappointing, but I was kind of expecting it. Perhaps, my disdain for the author’s disparaging Lost comments are hindering my enjoyment.

You may have been disappointed in the ending of Lost, George, but at least the show finished the way it wanted to. Are you even going to finish your series?

I should have downloaded something else to listen to.

*          *          *          *          *

We pulled up to where the water meets the road.

Piles of dirt are visible, appearing as small barren red dirt mountains in the midst of the flooded cove.

There should be a road here. The goal was to build it higher and avoid the possible floods of the future.

The goal failed.

I snap a quick picture for a Facebook post and climb back into the car. My younger sister asleep in the passenger seat after her graduation. My youngest sister watching my actions.

I shut the door and look at the water along the drainage ditch.

I see the ghost of a bobber, jerking and trembling as a small sunfish nibbled at the bait. I see the ghost of my father unhooking my catch, and I gently plop it back into the water, seeing it race away amongst the weeds. I see the ghost of a worm being attached to a hook as I eagerly cast away hoping to catch another, hoping this one will be larger than my 1st grader-sized palm. Within seconds of hitting the water, the bobber runs amongst the weeds again.

With my sisters in the car, I drive away, leaving the ghost of my next catch behind me.

*          *          *          *          *

How does a house become abandoned?

As I cruise down I-40, I wonder this as I pass another collapsing building.

The wooden walls leaning, a roof having disappeared years before. From what remains of the building, it is impossible to determine if it was a house or a barn or, perhaps, something else entirely.

Tall grasses grow from within what’s left of the structure.

What happened here?

When did the people who built this give up on the building?

Why?

So much must have happened here, and yet, now, nothing but nature taking back what she once held.

The engine purrs, and the tires rumble.

The voice of Roy Dotrice continues the story of the Seven Kingdoms and the lands beyond.

Yet, the ghosts along the road still remain.