May 26, 2007

Poetry Friday Challenge: Trip

Okay, so yes I know it's Saturday. I can tell because there aren't any good cartoons on tv in the mornings anymore, there's only a whole channel of stuff piped in 24/7/365. And yes, that means I'm about a day late on my Poetry Friday, but hey, at least I showed up, right?

Trip. Mona posited that simple yet many-faceted little tetragramaton for us, and I've spent my Friday and my cartoonless Saturday morning rolling different ideas around, tasting them, looking at them from different angles, and telling them to wet their lips and make love to the camera.

I thought about writing about trips in the drug-induced sense of the word but I've never taken anywhere near enough drugs to have any sort of a trip, unless you count anastetic, and that just puts me to sleep, so that variation is out.

I thought about writing about tripping as in 'falling down,' but that's a pretty sore subject (heh...puns, gotta love 'em) if you're me, which only I am, and funny if you're watching me WHEN I trip if you're the sort of person that laughs at someone else's calamity Scott, so I guess I'm gonna leave that one alone, too.

I thought briefly about writing about a thirty minute long exit from work yesterday wherein I rode the bike to town to get some keys cut, and how wonderful it was to be a) out in the sun and air riding and b) getting paid time and a half for it, but I've done the bike posts before. With that in mind I'm gonna try the 'childhood trip with parents' thing, and if that doesn't work out, well then there's always the bike story, and I can even tell you about the "Orintel Club" with it's "Naked Dancers 3pm - 2" every day except Sundays.


When I was ten or so, my parents decided it was time for The Trip. We were going to take a family vacation in which we'd see the Grand Canyon, The Painted Desert in Arizona, and the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. My brother and I, not knowing any better, were enthused beyond belief. We hadn't, you see, ever spent more than three hours or so stuffed into the back of the station wagon before. Boy did we have a lesson coming.

We owned at the time an old brown Pontiac station wagon, a huge lumbering beastie with wood-patterned decals all down the side to evoke a sort of classic style sorta thing. My father was to drive, which meant a near religious adherence to speed limits, and my mother was along, which meant we'd be mother-henned to death at every opportunity, up to and including not going outside in the wind with wet hair because we'd catch a bad case of Death.

I don't recall a lot of the travel time stuff, but one thing does stick out in my mind--the fact that when you get into north Texas and that area there is Nothing To See. And by that I mean cows that exist by eating rocks and dirt, miles of dead-looking mesquite trees, and dirt. And rocks. And cows that eat dirt and rocks, and maybe the occasional mesquite tree for that smoky flavour it imparts rocks and dirt.

Now slow that down to 55mph and you can see the miles just spooling out endlessly.

I remember the Grand Canyon as being impossibly big, so very huge that I wasn't able to appreciate how truly scary a thing it could be. I mean, it's a CRACK, in the EARTH. And it's huge. All I really remember is the wind that seemed to come screaming up the walls and into the viewing areas, a constant gale that threatened to blow you over backwards. I also remember the guy who was standing on a ledge of rock about ten feet beyond the steel pipe rail that you weren't supposed to cross, and how I secretly wished that gust of wind would hang him out there 45 degrees in the wind, just to show him what happens to scoff-laws. Unfortunately God didn't strike him down, just another in a long list of my former saviour's failures.

The Painted Desert was pretty astounding, in a 'it's way too big to see from a car' sort of way. The same problem arose here as did at the Grand Canyon--we weren't really hiking/camping people, so we sort of stared at a lot of gaily coloured rocks and giant gaily coloured rock formations from parking areas, scenic viewpoints and from the big back window of the station wagon as we drove down more of those endless straight highways that places like north Texas, Arizona and New Mexico seem to specialise in.

Carlabad Caverns was, to me worth the trip. We got to walk down into a giant hole in the earth and see the results of thousands of years of mineral-laden water wearing away at the very bones of the world. Walking down winding asphalt trails that nature had thoughtfully placed there for our convenience, holding on tight to the steel handrails, and listening to radio-broadcast pre-recorded tour guides on headsets that didn't work very well at all I stared around in wide-eyed amazement at formations of astounding grandeur and pools of water so still as to seem like huge irregular sheets of glass, carefully fitted into rocky caverns.

The best part of the trip for me, though, was the Meteor Crater. It wasn't on the itenerary, which probably panicked my parents no end, but as I was at the time just a few years into my heady, effervescent love affair with space, science fiction and all things astronomical, the giant billboard advertising "METEOR CRATER!" was too much for me to ignore. I had to see it or my ten short years on earth would be utterly wasted. After miles of whining and begging, and a constant supply of "Giant Meteor Crater!" billboards they finally relented, and we turned onto yet another endless, sun-baked two-lane highway.

At first we thought we had been had--there was even more nothing along this little farm road than before, just endless miles of flat, sandy brown nothing. Then we started noticing something--rocks. Not small rocks, big ones. And the more we drove the more we noticed the rocks, ranging from stones the size of compact cars all the way up to menhirs bigger than our house, all of them seemingly tossed at random across the landscape, as though a giant had kicked down a huge pile of stones. When it occurred to me that these were stones that had been torn loose and thrown from the splash of a giant space-fallen object my tiny mind went into overdrive.

Arriving there was a little of a letdown--all that stood on the site was a small white-painted building and a replica of an Apollo space capsule. Walking into the smallish, air-conditioned building wasn't much of a rush, either...the walls were lined with back-lit signs telling all about meteorites, asteroids, space and space travel and the standard NASA-issue photos of astroanuts doing slow-motion things on the Moon's surface--nothing at all new to me.

Things began looking up when I started seeing big acrylic display cases with lumpy, eerie looking chunks of rocks, rocks that hadn't been born on this little blue and green world. They were made of nickel and iron and all sorts of metal ores, and were honeycombed with pits and tunnels and veins, the very image of something alien in my ten-year old's eyes. After all, these things had Fallen From Space. How much cooler could that be, unless an astronaut had suddenly hove into view with his flesh melting off like wax from a candle.

Then I turned a corner and found myself in front of a panoramic window, looking out across a hole that made my sci-fi wired brain fritz for a moment. It was a crater, all right. A crater about three miles across, as though someone had come along and taken an ice-cream scoop of Brobdingian proportions to the pristine surface of the desert, a perfect bowl with smooth edges and frighteningly plain features.

I don't know how long I stood there, trying to imagine the ramifications of something hitting the planet with that sort of speed and explosive consequence, but I know the moment left quite a mark in the soft clay of my young mind. There are only a few vividly-held memories of that trip, but the sight of that eerily perfect hole in the ground stands proud among them. It made the long hours suffering in heat locked in a car with my brother worth while.

If you happen to be in the area, or want to recreate my childhood memory, here's a link. They certainly seem to have improved the facility since I was there, circa 1977.


meno said...

Damn, that's a big hole.
Brobdingian? Damn, that's a big word.

This brings back memories of car trips in my childhood. Endless hot hours in the car fighting with my brother and him wiping his boogers on me. Where were we driving? I haven't a clue.

Scott from Oregon said...

Dude. I was so there!

Not because you wrote it so well (which you did) but because, like, I was so there! Either 76 or 77, I can't remember, but I remember stopping on our driving trip from Miami to San Francisco, and looking at this big Brobdingian hole.

I believe I said "Holy Moly!" at the time.

Down in the Yucatan the hole is so big you don't even know you are in it. It is double-Brobdingian!

Irrelephant said...

Meno, I'm as certain as death that we fought, my brother and I. We don't fight anymore but that's because I'm an adult, and he's a douche bag. A Brobdingian douche bag.

Scott, I can't believe it! Too cool! As for the Yucatan, I can barely SPELL Yucatan, and wouldn't be able to at all except there's a cool Mex eatery down here called The Yucatan. As far as I know they don't have a giant meteor crater.

The barstards.

Mona Buonanotte said...

You are the luckiest boy alive! "This" close to a meteor crater? Dang. And I haven't even been to the "Mystery Spot" in Michigan where gravity doesn't exist!