A story by Brett Crockett of Karmadoda fame. An audio engineer with Dolby – perhaps you’ve heard of them, a great friend, my brother-in-law. It’s a quick read, and it’s funny, and pensive.
It is mid-winter, evening, Northern California. A light rain falls on the small mountainside town where I live, creating a halo of mist. This rainy mist is what the summer humidity of the Midwest, the humidity of my childhood, would look like if it had the decency to be honest and represent itself, visually, in full. But no, summer Midwestern humidity is an oppressive stone of wet heat that hangs around your neck and invisibly weighs you down.
This Northern California mist is cool but not cold. It is wet but does not make you wet.
I am halfway up the main street of my town which cups a hill south of San Francisco. I am pulling my car into Julie’s Liquor Mart. The main street shoots up the side of the mountain at an ambitious perpendicular angle, rocket linear, heading straight for the top, the ridge. However, like most things here it quickly begins to swerve and angle when things get difficult and. It begins to deviate, winding in a desultory way across the mountain side.
I am at Julie’s to buy a diet Mountain Dew. I like diet Mountain Dew.
Pull in, D4 to P, hand brake up, lights off, step out, “beep”, all in one fluid motion.
“This rainy mist is what the summer humidity of the Midwest would look like if it had the decency to be honest and represent itself, visually, in full “, I think to myself.
I step inside under florescent lights, the smell of candy, the soft hits wafting from unseen speakers. Coolers on right. Check. Drink in sight. Check.
“They never grow old and they don’t feel any pain.”
There it is, Diet Mountain Dew, white cap, label slightly different than normal Mountain Dew which…
“So he pawned all his hopes, and he even sold his old car
Bought a one way ticket, to the life he once knew, oh yes he did…”
“They never grow old and they don’t feel any pain. I know this because…”
Drink in hand, rounding the rack of corn snacks, familiar voice ahead.
“He said he would be leaving
On that midnight train to Georgia…”
“…I’ve studied this.”
Ah, yes, Randy.
“I’ve studied this you see because I was addicted to pain killers, you know, because of my knees.
I haven’t used any in over two years. Two YEARS.”
“And he’s goin’ back
To a simpler place and time.”
Randy. He is tanned, sun-burned even. Even in the winter. Strong, built low, dragged low to the ground by years of carrying heavy things. Construction things, car things, heavy things. Rocks? Broken concrete, for sure, broken concrete. The kinds of things that will wreck a man’s knees.
“And I’ll be with him
On that midnight train to Georgia”
The last time I saw Randy was up the Bayshore, a few miles north, closer to San Francisco. I had been filling up the gas tank of my 1995 Honda Civic that had a battery that was a bit dodgy. I was done with the refilling when I realized that I had left my headlights on. Fuck.
(Author’s question: Why in the hell do we now feel compelled to turn on our headlights in the middle of the day? I’m beginning to think some ingenious Swede who manufacturers automobile headlight bulbs, and yes, maybe even for fuck’s sake, even goddamn car batteries, has a brother-in-law at Volvo or somewhere that makes safety conscious cars and he said, “Sven, listen, you’re in charge of the Volvo headlight microcontroller programming team and you are a man of great power. Tell your coders to program the cars to automatically turn on the headlight when the car is started and, I don’t know, say it’s for SAFETY reasons. OK? Don’t ask any questions. Your sister is a very needy woman and is used to a lifestyle of comfort and, well things are challenging for me now, financially, and I need to sell more bulbs and batteries. Don’t get me to start drinking and accidentally start reminiscing about your fondue bachelor party with all the knulla and hora when I’m talking with your wife next Christmas you mongo. Done?” “Det vet du, done!” “Good.”)
So now we all turn on the car headlights even when it’s warm and clear and beautiful in places like, say, Northern California where I am right now with a tank full of gas and a goddamn dead battery and no one to help me out except for… Randy.
“I’d rather live in his world
Than live without him in mine…”
There he is. At the other row of gas pumps, filling up. Tank top. Sun tanned. Low to the ground and crouched. Bad knees? He walks over to the small bullet proof cashier’s hut and pre-pays, about 20 feet from where I am.
“Hey Randy, my battery’s, dead, can you jump me?”
“No problem buddy just let me fill up.”
Randy returns to his truck and begins filling and notices the truck in front of his.
“Hey bro, what year is that?”
“That is my FAVORITE truck of all time, bro. I had one of them when I was in high school in 1972 and I’ve never forgotten…”
“…it’s damn near a perfect….”
“… you really can get down into… hey buddy I’ll be right there with that jump for you!”
“Go, gonna board, gonna board,
Gonna board the midnight train.”
I am not a praying man, but I am a man who believes in the power, the possibility, of positive thought. I looked at my 1995 Honda Civic and made an unspoken, not a prayer really, but an unspoken invocation. It wasn’t even mentally verbalized. It was sort of a feeling. Maybe what a cat does when it wants something from its owner. A cat doesn’t look at you and have an internal dialog in, say, English, like, “Hey, Master, I would like some Fancy Feast Tuna. Now, if you please.”
No, inside the cat’s brain it’s much more primal, it’s a mental cave drawing of feelings where the cat looks at you, the giant graceless monkey who by the draw of evolution has those big wonderful thumbs that do things like open cans, and the cat paints on its mental cave wall, a thought projection: “hungry, salty, liquid, chunky, can” in your general direction. Somehow this works and you feed the cat.
This is the interaction that I had with my car. Not a “please you wonderful green car save me from another 5 minutes of being at the mercy of Randy, because, I know, I KNOW he’s going to go on for so long, I know it, just the thought it… of … oh God, please… start.”
It was me, standing there in the mist, on the concrete, next to the shiny white gas pump painting my own internal cave painting thought projection: “Stranded, rain, battery, last attempt, start.”
I got in the car. I slowly gripped the key. I turned it. One last chance, all I need is one last chance. I knew that’s all that I needed and all that there may be.
RRRrrr RRRrrr RRRRZZZZZZaaaaammmmmmmmmmmmmm.
I am painting, on a cave wall, in my mind: “I love you car.”
Hood down. Slam. Gesture over to Randy who is in mid-conversation:
“… and that was my favorite color, hey is that your dog…”
“Randy, thanks man, it had one last turnover in her, thank you.”
“Gotta go, gonna board
“Hey dude, sorry took so long, you know, hey, check your terminals. They get corroded… and the water, check the water… might be low man.”
“Gonna board the midnight train…”
“Thanks Randy, thank you, man!”