Me, Mike and Manny circa 1966

Friday, July 12, 2013

Jetta the Mountain

for our angels

 The weekend after teaching intense workshops at Voice of Our Nation Arts Foundation, my friend Elmaz treated us to the spa at Calistoga, California. At the end of the treatment, she put her hand on my shoulder and asked me, “How was it?”

"It was like having angels," I told her.

The following day we loaded up the VW Jetta and began our pilgrimage to three of the ten U.S. Internment Camps: Tulelake, Minidoka, and Manzanar. 

On the road to Manzanar, we traveled through the mountains of Nevada.  Were awed by the sight of red rock formations, by the miles of lone passageways, by the skies big and wide as the universe.  At half a tank of gas, he turned to me and said, “Let’s start looking for filling stations.”  We looked as we took pictures of the landscape.  Said things like, “It’s like being on another planet.”  We listened to an inspirational talk on trust.  We sang songs of gratitude for the beautiful, treeless mountains.

The sun began to set.  The sky grew bright with color.  We oohed and ahhed.  We drove by towns where pumps were closed.  We continued oohing and ahhing.  We did not talk about the talk on trust.An antelope leapt into the road all copper and dreamy under the setting sun.  We swerved out of the way.  Freaked that little thing out.  She jumped back fast.

Then the sky went midnight blue.  The stars did not come out.  The rock formations fell asleep around us too.  Their magnificence was lost in all that night.  The needle on the gas tank went down.  Twenty miles, then ten, then five.

When we talked to 911, the lady said, “Sorry but we can’t help you until you’re stopped.” He slowed down to thirty-five miles an hour.  Shifted the car into neutral, coasted.Under my breath, I sang a song to God.  I considered faith and trust.  Made a choice. He went silent, said, “Watch the road markers, Sugar.” The cell coverage went dead.

By the time we were forty miles from Benton, our gas tank had been empty for five miles. We made a choice to go forward any way.  Crawled the hills like snails. Got so high up the ride down shot the Jetta back up the next mountain.  At the crest of one peak he said, “7,125?  That’s 2000 feet higher than Denver.

I whispered, “Thank you, God.”  And then the car flew down the mountain at 85 miles an hour.  He hit the breaks to manage the curves.  We drove 45 miles on that empty gas tank—me singing all the way, he silent and holding my hand.  The Jetta hungry.

At Benton, we rolled into a sleepy town where everyone had gone to bed, save a building next to the gas station.

“The lights are on,” I said.  “Ask them to open up the pumps.”

But he rolled the car next to the newfangled gas pumps.  

“Give me your card,” he said.

We slipped the card into the pump.  We held our breath.  And when the lights went on we filled the tank and danced.  The angels still with us.


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