Rendered Fat Content


Carlos Schwabe: La mort du fossoyeur (Death of the gravedigger) (1895)
"Just imagine the depth of character I'm creating."

Fifty years ago, I was one autumn twilight driving my mother's '63 VW Beetle, which we lovingly referred to as The Helicopter because it sounded like a helicopter, up onto Washington State's Snoqualmie Pass and into a snow storm. An old friend who was riding along dispensed some advice which has since become one of my guiding homilies of life. He said, "Tuck in behind a truck and keep one foot in the ditch." His logic seemed flawless. A commercial truck driver very likely had much more experience than I driving through snow in the dark, and his vehicle was likely much more susceptible to sliding than mine, so a leading truck could serve as my early warning system when the road turned slippery. I should maintain an ExitStrategy anyway, by keeping one foot in the ditch, by remaining prepared to drive myself off to the side should the situation turn truly perilous. I continue this general strategy today, even when it's not snowy. I try to follow someone more experienced than I and I also try to maintain a fallback plan should my pathfinder fail me. I think of this strategy as a form of double indemnity, a compounded form of safety. While everyone else seems most interested in passing every slow-moving truck, I'm more likely to tuck myself in behind so that I can leverage the driver's superior experience.

I try to apply this guideline wherever I'm feeling imperiled, but this Damned Pandemic has foiled my attempts.
First, I cannot find anyone very much more experienced in navigating a pandemic than I, for it's been too many generations since a similar contagion passed by. Also, ditches seem scarce along this route. Other than simply staying home, I cannot seem to identify any safe haven out there. When The Muse and I toodle somewhere, we figure that our car, The Schooner, serves as an extension of home, but should someone call for a bio-break, we're clearly on our own. Who knows what danger lurks behind a restroom door? Meal time, too, offers little recourse, with a wide variety of compliances among the alternative sources. If the mini-mart clerk wears his mask down around his chin, steer well clear of the hot dog carrousel. Better to plan on staying close enough to home so that neither nature nor nurture calls while we're gone.

I thought last night that it sure would be nice to toodle up into Wyoming and just get myself lost for a few days. I imagined myself wending my way up and across The Bighorns, maybe overnighting in Tensleep, the most curiously named place on any map. (It's was, back in stagecoach days, ten nights out of anyplace else.) I just wanted to get away by myself, to drive a few new to me blue highways, to overnight in a couple of serious dive motels, but I checked the Coronavirus testing results and found that Wyoming is currently enjoying a positive test rate over four times Colorado's. Same story with New Mexico, Kansas, Utah, and South Dakota, which means I'm effectively blocked in here. Home seems to have become the ditch I have long insisted upon when making forays out into any great beyond. My only currently reasonable ExitStrategy seems to be letting my wanderlust be.

There was a time, not that long ago, when whim could occasionally take over. I could, without supporting justification, just set out to see what kind of trouble I might manage to get myself in. Now, I have to import my trouble and consume it in-house, a seemingly lousy substitution. I too easily complain about everyone else being overly anxious to open wide open again, though I can relate to their frustration. I could probably justify driving up there, forget my little history lesson and forego any trailblazing truck, and also deflect my usual insistence upon keeping one foot in some ditch, but to what end? The absence of any desired does make a heart grow fonder while encouraging a mind to wander into perilous territory. We're playing for keeps this time, and the risks seem only of the under-appreciated variety. Covid-19's no mere 'so what?' sort of outcome. It could become the end of me, just as if I'd ignored my friend's long ago plea to keep a truck just ahead of me and one of my left feet in the ditch. I will stitch together some story to help me pass for sane for now, though I will not lose my itch to head up toward Tensleep again and again and again and again. They say that denying myself my whims eventually builds character. Just imagine the depth of character I'm creating.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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