The annoyance of being Jerry

I’m sitting in a pizza place where they call your name when the pizza’s ready. So far there’s been Jimmy, Jim, Jane, Terry, Larry, John, and Jake. The “J” sound is enough to perk my ears and interrupt my so-fragile train of thought, and they called Jimmy for so long that I thought maybe the girl had heard my name wrong and went to check, but Terry and Larry are the worst. I’ve been up to the pickup counter three times, and I don’t have a pie. I used to use Zebart as my name in situations like this. I don’t know why I stopped.

Time has passed.

I have my pizza now, and it’s quite good. They just called another Jimmy, another Terry, and another Jake.

Hi, I’m Zebart. How may I help you?

Crater Lake

Location: Abbey’s Pizza, Bend, Oregon
Miles: 2763.6

The call of the road was less urgent this morning, and I got a good start on the day by going in to Central Weed for breakfast. I missed out by jumping on the first hotel I saw last night. The one I stayed in was nice enough, but in Central Weed there were a couple that advertised much better rates. More important, Central Weed even has a little downtown area with a couple of promising-looking bars. Alas, I will never have a chance to learn the charms that lie behind the door of Papa’s. It didn’t really look like my kind of breakfast place. I was scouting around for a good place for breakfast when someone in a moose costume directed me to a place called the Hungry Moose (or something like that). It looked OK so I went for it. If some poor bastard or bastardette is going to stand around in a moose costume they may as well get something for it. While I secured my belongings several passing cars honked at the moose. Not an annoying honk, just the social beep-beep hello-neighbor sort of honk. I imagine in a town that size everyone knows who’s in there.

After eating more than I should have at the all-you-can-eat buffet, I wedged myself into the Miata and pointed its nose up Highway 97. With Shasta on my right, shining white against an azure sky, a few skimpy clouds clinging to it’s peak, I started a slow climb up into the something-or-other Bluff Valley. The road was already shimmering with heat mirages. I wondered: How many times would I have to drive on that road before I stopped noticing that incredible volcano? Did the truckers I met coming the other way still see it? Did it still take their breath away?

To my right in the distance was another snow-capped peak poking up behind the nearer mountains. I guessed that it was Mt. Ranier, a long way away. That’s the Cascades in a nutshell, beautiful strings of mountains punctuated by awe-inducing cinder cones, improbably stark and jagged against the sky, rivaled only by each other.

crater lake One of the most impressive of these peaks would have been Mount Mazama. The jagged remains are impressive enough, but the top of the mountain is gone. In its place is a ring of peaks and a steep-walled crater. The mountain went from being one of the tallest peaks in the world to it’s current state in a single event.

Humans witnessed this transformation. We have seen cities destroyed in our lifetime. We have seen genocide. We have not seen a mountain cease to be. One of Mazama’s sisters, St. Helen, blew a side of her face off, but that’s simply nothing compared to this. Mazma ceased to be. Perhaps all the power of man combined could rival that, but I doubt it.

While it must have been shit-your-pants unpleasant to be around the day the mountain exploded, and there were people around then, it’s certainly a great place to be now. As I climbed the slope on the south side of the mountain the snow at the sides of the road got deeper and deeper. I was driving next to a deep gorge, and there were some tantalizing side roads that probably led to some nice views, but they were blocked by snow. Only the main road had been cleared.

At the entry gate where I paid my fee I was greeted by a very friendly ranger, who warned me in advance that most of the road around the rim was still closed. When does it usually open? I didn’t ask. No matter. I had been planning to go out the north gate, which was closed, but I’m nothing if not adaptable. I paid my ten bucks and up I went.

At the top it was crowded, possibly because so much of the park was still inaccessible by car. All the visitors were crammed into a small space. I spotted some hikers as well, and even considered going on a ramble myself, but I just wasn’t equipped for it. Hiking up there requires a lot of preparation, since the weather can go from beautiful to deadly very quickly.

I found a spot for the car, secured all my crap, and climbed the small snowy bank in front of me. Judging by the number of footprints in the snow even that part of the park had not been open long. I scrambled up the few feet to the top of the embankment and there it was. For a few minutes I forgot about the camera, stopped the voices in my head, and just looked.

Then I took pictures. You can look at those. Like Yosemite, Crater Lake really is what it’s cracked up to be.

Yearbooks

I ran across my old high school yearbook while packing up my life for this trip. The yearbook is a tool we use to say goodbye without ever saying goodbye. We press upon our friends to write something special inside the cover that we can always remember that person by. It’s like pre-packaged nostalgia. We were romantic then, all of us, even a geek like me, but for me the yearbook ritual was as horrifying as it was stupid. I think I picked up the whole cynical thing ahead of my time – I was postcocious.

I cracked open the yearbook not really knowing what to expect. There were warm words from people that I have not thought of in years, and far more empty paragraphs that from this distance were obviously rote statements made for those you had no strong affinity for but you had to write something. Then there was one from someone who I still know and count as one of my best friends. Much of it was in code. “Don’t forget Maynard,” it said. “Don’t forget Edgar.” Maynard and Edgar were not acquaintances, they were words that had special meaning for us. Maynard was, um… and there’s the thing. I don’t remember. I have forgotten Maynard. I have forgotten Edgar.

I do remember thinking that I would never forget those things. I remembered the first time I read that passage and thought that those things would always be a part of me. I remember lots of other things about that year. Many of them I would prefer to forget. I remember stupid things I did that only hurt other people. I didn’t learn from those years, I’ve kept right on dong those things. I remember small triumphs and big disappointments.

I remember the person who gave me that crazy list of things to remember. Even back then it was pretty widely recognized that remembering things was not my forte, but he asked me to anyway. Had I studied the list, well, ever, I might remember what all that stuff was about. Instead I remember moonlight frisbee golf, Mars 2021, and guerilla brass caroling in July. Those really were good times, no matter what the yearbook says. Sorry, Maynard.

Another thing I don’t remember is what I wrote in anyone else’s yearbook. That’s probably a good thing. I don’t think I signed that many, but I’m sure the ones I did I took just as seriously as everyone else and said a lot of dumb crap. Somewhere out there someone has pulled out their yearbook in the last couple of years, perhaps for the 20th reunion (if there was one), and looked at what I wrote and asked the air, “Who’s Jerry?” Better, probably, if we ever meet again, that my name is never associated with what I wrote. “We will always be friends,” or something like that. Nothing like reading a note from someone you haven’t seen in 22 years and only vaguely remember saying what a special time this has been and how you will always be friends.

My advice to any kids out there who are about to be put in the position of trying to say something sincere and lasting and flattering and intelligent: Write “elevator ocelot rutabaga” and sign your name. Learn calligraphy so those three magic words seem all the more important. The people that matter, the ones you really will be friends with forever, will look back on that oddity and say, “Yep, that’s Martha, all right. What a character.” (Assuming your name is Martha, of course. OR – better yet – sign as Martha no matter what your name really is. If you’re female, sign as Maynard.) Then they’ll go right on remembering you for who you are and why they like you so much. The others, the ones who don’t remember you at all, will have a mystery to puzzle over when they blow the dust off their yearbooks every ten years or so.

Elevator Ocelot Rutabaga. I’m pretty sure that’s not what I wrote back then.

Weed

Location: Silva’s Restaurant, Weed, California
Miles: 2470.2

I skipped breakfast this morning – I didn’t want to take time out to eat and delay my departure any further – plus I was out of food. I took care of a last few things for work, hung around long enough to say goodbye to Mark and Leza and took off. I’m not good at goodbyes; I’d prefer to simply vanish. I would be disappointed, however, if someone simply vanished on me. Disappointed an relieved. I know, however, that most people want the opportunity to say that one last thing. The appropriate thing. Let’s face it. the things you say between hello and goodbye are what matter. I had a great conversation with Leza in the shadow of goodbye. We pulled out our best stories and we both told them well. Ask her about Venice some time.

It was past noon already by the time I left. That was OK, I have a couple of days to burn.

I left the house hungry and thirsty. I had decided to go down through the legendary Carson City (“The Capital of Nevada”, the welcome sign reminds you) although I knew that none of the old west character would be left. As I rode US 55 into town I was assaulted by every fast-food restaurant even invented. I didn’t stop. I couldn’t. Not even the drive-through. The road had me once again, and my blood was singing. I opened a bottle of Coke and put on sunscreen at traffic lights.

The highway took me straight through the heart of Carson City. I was looking at an interesting-looking bar simply called “Jack’s Bar” when I noticed that I was driving past the Nevada State Assembly building on the other side. I bet a lot gets done at Jack’s. I bet they have a back room. Rolling through Carson City is slow, but speed’s not the issue, motion is. I am on the road, and I’m not leaving it. Through Carson then, and picking up speed as I head North to Reno. As the car moves faster I push up the volume on the tunes. (Drill, their self-titled – and perhaps only – album. One of my favorites.) I’m rolling, hunger forgotten.

Reno is just a bunch of buildings next to the highway. There’s a quick shot of adrenaline when the truck in front of me loses a load of wood. They were thin strips, maybe for wood flooring, but in a convertible that kind of thing is extra-exciting. Fortunately with lightning reflexes and catlike grace (and plenty of time to react and room to maneuver) I avoided the crisis and the adrenaline just added to my exhilaration.

Along the way were several tiny towns, most of which had withered up and were about to blow away. The first place that even tempted me to stop was a barn with the classic red roof and Burger Barn written across it in big white letters. It was the kind of place that used to line all America’s highways, before sameness became a virtue and people began to only take 2-lane roads as a luxury. Burger Barn also was closed up and gone. A shame, but so it goes, and so I went. Up on the high plains traffic was sparse, the grass was green, and the world was big.

Somewhere along this stretch of road I started to wonder if I could get someone to pay me to just keep going.

Susanville, the first town of any size, was a very pleasant-looking place. It’s there my route turned alpine again, and it was there I picked up my shadow. It was a primer-gray sedan of indeterminate American pedigree which followed as I turned from 36 onto 44. For the next 50 miles or so it was always there in my rear-view mirror. I was going just fast enough so he didn’t pass. When I passed another car he would pass it too, but he never passed me. I took the corners much faster than he did, but on the straights he was right there again. For a while I was mildly annoyed. I tried to get him to pass and leave me in peace. Later I passed a truck and he couldn’t get around it, and I was alone again, and I missed him after that. I almost slowed down to let him catch up again.

I came to an unexpected intersection as I cruised highway 44. There was a pullout right before the intersection, but I was moving, my shadow buddy was still behind me, and there was to be no stopping. I chose wrong.

“Wrong” is a difficult word to apply when any choice is going to lead to a great drive. Indeed, my wrong choice today was not bad at all. Highway 44 is for most of the length I drove today in excellent condition and passes through spectacular scenery. After the wrong turn the speed limit slowed to a more sane 55 for a road like that, and the pavement was almost silent. With almost no tire noise, and no engine noise as the car slid along effortlessly at that speed, there was only the modest wind noise. I turned off the tunes and glided through the forest.

One section I went through was being actively logged. There were areas that were clear-cut, but not the vast tracts of yesteryear, instead they were strangely straight-edged clearings. From above, it might have looked like a checkerboard pattern. Hopefully after the chewed-up ground recovers they will be strange, square meadows. (Who am I kidding? they’ll be replanted with trees soon enough.) Also there were large areas that had been thinned rather than clear-cut. The ground was pretty chewed up there also, and the trees that were left were pretty scrawny, but today I chose to be optimistic and recognize that those trees now had the space to grow into the great trees whose stumps were still all around. The timber industry is a topic for another day, or perhaps another blog. Today I was burning gasoline, not wood.

Onward and downward. I started to get the feeling I was going the wrong direction, but the road was a twisty one and a pleasant one. Finally I slid down out of the mountains into Reading, at the northern end of the mighty central valley, and about sixty miles farther south than I had intended. No matter; as Interstate highways go, that section is pretty sweet. There is only one reason I say I took a wrong turn, and that is base solely on my map. the road I meant to take dances around the base of Shasta like a drunken bridesmaid. I would have enjoyed that drive.

Now I’m in Weed. “Weed”, in these parts, is generally not a reference to an unwelcome plant in your garden. For all I know, the term when used in reference to pot has its origin here. I am in Weed, CA. I met not one single person in this town that would validate my innuendo. It was your typical small town.

My paranoia about finding a room was completely unfounded. Rather than go into Central Weed, I got off at the South Weed exit because there were hotels advertised on those “Gas – Food – Lodging” signs. Now I’ve talked to a couple of people, and Central Weed sounds pretty cool. That’s all my imagination, of course, like that highway I didn’t take. But as your faithful reporter from ‘out here’, wherever that is, I will get to the bottom of Weed. Helpful is the back of the menu at Silva’s, where I had my Lunchdinnerfast, only a tiny portion of which I reproduce here:

Weed on weed:
The city of Weed is nestled on the western slopes of Mount Shasta in Northern California at an elevation of 3,467 feet. Located right at the intersection of Interstate 5 and Highway 97, it marks the beginning of the Alaska Highway… Weed is surrounded by national forests, high desert plains, and volcanic formations of geological interest. The central city in Siskiyou County, it is just fifty miles from hte Oregon border.

There was a lot more. I stole the menu so if you want to hear more, I can hook you up. (There is a council-manager form of government here, and a bowling alley.)

Mount Shasta is 4317m high. I would really love it if someone would calculate how much of the Earth’s atmosphere is between the top of my head and the top of that mountain. It’s probably half or more. Looking up, I couldn’t help but think how thin the layer of life is on our planet. The top of that mountain may have a little life, but not much. Below the crust life does not go so deep either. We, all of us, are a membrane on the surface of a rock. We are a thin film of particularly exciting molecules that are pretty fragile.

Free at last!

And boy, is it about time. I’ve been thinking about the difference between being alone in a friend’s house and alone in a hotel room. There were days I saw almost nothing of my hosts (Mark is in San Jose most of the time anyway), so I really was on my own. I explored the town, met people in bars, and all the stuff I would do if I was a total stranger in town. But it was different, no doubt about that.

Something about belonging. I’ll work something up from the road, which calls louder with each passing minute.

Kilgore Trout

Tonight I had a really good idea for a techno-thriller. A really sweet idea. A tantalizing idea. It would make a good movie as well; the idea could be treated at varying depths. The idea itself is not important right now though, the problem is it’s crowding my other work out of my head. You know how when a toddler sees something they want they forget they’re even holding something else? Whatever had been in their hand falls to the floor unnoticed. My idea is like the new toy, shiny and exciting, and I can’t stop playing with it.

Maybe that’s what I’ll write in November. I was going to write My Life: An Autobiography (revised edition) but this new idea is better. I really, really need to get a good solid draft of what I’m working on now done before November, no matter what I write about then. If history is any guide, my November novel becomes my next year’s project.

The Fish was supposed to be a vehicle for me to pack up a bunch of the story fragments flying around in my head and scribbled on bar napkins. At first each chapter was going to have one of these little story snippets, either as a song lyric, a report on the radio, or as an argument at a bus stop. The it was most chapters, then the occasional chapter. It’s just not working as well as I thought it would. The main story is starting to outgrow all those little ideas, turning them into distractions from the flow of the narrative. I need Kilgore Trout.

Kilgore Trout is perhaps the most prolific fictitious writer ever. For every novel Vonnegut wrote, Trout wrote piles. (I use the past tense perhaps prematurely, but if you read Timequake, it comes off a lot like a retirement speech.) Trout allowed Vonnegut to make use of the dozens of ideas he had that he simply did not have time to develop fully. Vonnegut could say “Trout had written a story about a race of beings…” and his little distracting idea could rest in peace. I need someone like that. Someone who can let my fragments be fragments.

Not a ramblin’ day

Today I was never farther than 15 steps from where I am now – in bed. Refrigerator and microwave: 6 steps. Bathroom: 14 steps. Workplace: 3 steps. The good news is I got my work done, so unless things go very wrong tomorrow I’ll be heading out Friday. It was going to be tomorrow but there are some things I want to take care of first. That means I’ll be right in some of the worst traffic and highest hotel rates of the year. Can I plan or what?

Not much going on in my head right now but the song “Let’s hear it for the letter W,” so I’ll just STFU.