My first car didn’t have seat belts. I was 14 years old, circa 1983, and I drove with my parents to Arizona where the streets know no rain and old sports cars don’t rust. Inspired by a decade of rally driving tales and the infamous 70’s fast car movies, I cashed in the $700 that had been building in my bank account for as long as I could remember and headed south into the Sierras like the Donner Party in the mythic search of adventure and freedom behind the wheel.
I met a girl at the hotel from Montrose, Colorado, bought a brown `69 Sprite with a cassette deck and no e-brake and towed her home.
Fast forward 30 years less a month and I drive a Chevy, yes, with seatbelts…and full curtain airbags, AWD, traction control, ABS, ECO Mode and the governor that taps out at 160kmh…you get the picture, and I woke up this morning with a cold my doctor undoubtedly won’t prescribe antibiotics for and read another story toting the advise, “you should never go into the back country alone”. The authors of our escaping would be greatly disappointed. I know what you`re going to say…but first hear me out.
As a child of an educational system based in a literary world – re. pre computer – I learned then that patriarchical life was composed of three main struggles; man vs man, man vs himself and of course, man vs nature. It was OK to say ‘man’ for all beings in those days and maybe fitting since my friend’s dad referred to the side of the car with the glove box as ‘the woman’s side’. They might have said ‘white man’ for that matter but the 60’s had passed and though I’m pretty sure that`s what they meant, they knew they weren’t allowed to say it, at least not in books. Burt Reynolds, Downhill Racer, The Gumball Rally…moustaches, fast cars and fast women. Those were the days!
Seriously though…can you imagine Burt Reynolds pulling on a seat belt after sliding over the hood and his Trans-Am cutting out at 100mph with Smokey in hot pursuit? or the original Ski Bum, Salman King, strapping a helmet on before dropping in a pow line in his long wool coat and 210 Rossi’s giving the man the finger? He didn`t even wear a touque. They are all gone now, replaced by iPhones, GPS stamps and Google Earth, and in more recent news, pediatricians have launched a campaign to mandate helmet use in ski areas before uncovering the fact that there are no enforceable helmet manufacturing standards in this country. (My advise…buy your helmet from a helmet company people.)
What ever happened to the solitary pusuit? the Swiss Family Robinson? Or Wilderness Adam’s? Do you think Jack Kerouac put down his cigarette long enough to buckle up between scribbling chapters of “On The Road”? What ever happened to that moment alone on the skin back up Oboe where I met up with Dr. Rob down the ridge from where the Symphony Chair sits now and we both knew, like men do, exactly why we didn’t say a word about doing a run together…
I know…before you say it, I know. I also know over the years of lives and times and voices lost beneath the snow, many of them in large groups one turn away from forever, there is sometimes no place I would rather be than alone on a ridge-line or up on the col beyond the crowds and the voices and the seat belts and helmets of a generation born of forgotten freedoms.
My mind drifts over the years and faces and trails and paddles and motorcycles and somehow or other reckless climbs, drives and escapes from the everyday bombardment of media that finds us here and shares my words. I imagine Norman Maclean (A River Runs Through it)…an old man… somewhere up the Big Blackfoot River with a fly rod after the friends and loves are long passed casting a line into the forever of a wilderness that is still his home.
Do you hear that? The wind between the chimes and the gentle calling from the far shore, snowy white muses that lead us on into the weightless escape embrace us there…alone.
Eventually I painted her red, fixed the emergency brake and sold my first love…but I never did find the seat belts.