At night from this distance, the twin rivers of car lights, red and white, barely seem to move along the I-10, even though I know from experience they’re traveling upwards of 80 mph. Most people see this stretch of empty desert between Phoenix and the California border as nothing worth slowing down to consider—the different personalities of the Saguaro, some with broken limbs or holes made by woodpeckers, or the colored bands of rock created by volcanic uplift or erosion from some previous era when there was measurable rainfall here — it all looks the same from blurred car windows.
People are fine talking about sobriety if you turn it into a dad joke: I came to the desert to dry out. But that’s not why I came here. Not initially.
Two years ago I found myself completely untethered. Divorce, job loss, foreclosure, bankruptcy, career change, new city, another relationship ended, another job lost. To quote Fitzgerald, “I had been a drawing on resources that I did not possess…I had been mortgaging myself physically and spiritually up to the hilt.” But I kept telling myself that I was in control, to just keep moving. I had daily panic attacks and high blood pressure. And I drank.
With July well underway, we’veput together a list of transportive pieces that encapsulate the spirit of summer—the dust above the country roads, the coolness of the waterfronts, the anticipation of autumn, and of course, the sticky, melting sweetness of ice cream. Take a trip through space and time with these summery selections.
Now I’m thinking of the time my father worked in the horse stables for Tom Wilson. This was after the coal mines had shut down for good, and at 40 years old, after spending most of his adult life underground, he now found himself adrift. I was just 13 then, and while I was certainly old enough to understand the strain the loss of his union job put on our family, my parents did what they could to shield me from the realities that lay ahead.
Do you remember when we’d go walking in the rain, and your coat was too big for you so that I couldn’t see your face under the hood? And we’d lean against one of the giant cedars growing among the graves in the Pioneer Cemetery, tree and stone planted over a hundred years before by ancestors unknown to us? And when we went to kiss, we bumped teeth because all sense of space had been lost? It was then I started falling in love with you.
This month, invest in a book you can begin knowing you’ll return many times. These works range the world from Bombay to Russia to Nigeria to San Francisco, and in page count from the “slender” to the “massive”—you’ll find something here for every interest, every schedule, every commute length. But each of this month’s recommenders chose their work in part for the fact that it seems to yield a new story on every visit; as Nalini Jones puts it, you’ll “feel the world tilt to the side” in a new direction every time you dip into these pages.
Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto, A Collection of Beauties at the Height of their Popularity by Whitney Otto, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, The Famished Road by Ben Okri
Two days after my birthday, we drove over the coast range to Seaside. It was a Monday, and I’d taken off from work, knowing I’d need a recovery day after the party that had lasted from Saturday afternoon till Sunday morning. Some might think that lazy or irresponsible; I think it’s just knowing yourself.
The weather had been sunny when we left our place in Newberg, a small town south of Portland in the Oregon wine country, but by the time we started up into the steep ridges separating the Willamette Valley from the ocean, the rain had started, which wasn’t a surprise, as it had already been one of the rainiest winters on record: in December there had been 25 straight days of rain, which is in the ballpark of 40 days and 40 nights. Jane took a nap, while I drove squinting through the water-blurred windshield. I always teased her about being able to fall asleep anywhere, and I smiled now at how peaceful her face was while I guided our 25-year-old Pathfinder—which we’d bought from a towing company for 500 bucks after it had been abandoned in downtown Eugene—along this curving road lined by 200-foot-tall fir trees growing up from the slopes below.
The town was segregated, not by laws but by economics. The lines were almost too stark. The northeast side of town was the “black side of town” while the southwest side of town, the farthest away from northeast, was the well-to-do, upper-middle-class “nice neighborhood.” The truly well off lived outside city limits in large homes built along cul-de-sacs in the middle of hardwood forests. I lived in the giant trailer park north of town, just across the railroad tracks from the NE housing projects.
It had nearly 400 trailers, a hamlet of tin cans. The trailers were singlewides, mostly from the 60s and 70s, and placed close together with small patches of grass between. They were set on concrete pads and anchored with “tornado straps,” metal bands bolted into the ground. It was a cheap place to live. A guy I worked with at Domino’s Pizza had lived there and sold his trailer to me and my friend Jon for $2,000. Lot rent was $100 a month, including water and trash.
I think of the winter years ago when I taught an evening class there made up of a group of nontraditional students studying social work and counseling, many of them driven to do so by the addiction or poverty or general hard times that affected, in one way or another, everyone. I’d leave the southern Willamette Valley in the dark and rain and cross the Calapooya Mountains towards the small city of Roseburg. That stretch of interstate still held remnants from the slower travel of the past where people stopped more often, sat down for meals, and had their cars serviced in the meantime. One exit still operated an all night diner and lounge, gas station and motor lodge, decked out in the original neon glaring through the night like brightly colored clouds; another exit twenty miles away with the same amenities along with roadside carnival rides, stood completely abandoned, as if at some point in 1963, everyone just walked away, not even bothering to flip the faded sign on the door from Open to Closed.
On Hearing the News of the Shooting at Umpqua Community College
We decided we’d stop for the night in Denver while eating at a Taco Johns in North Platte, Nebraska, and scanned the Expedia app on my phone. There was a 4-star hotel in the suburbs northwest of the city on sale for 86 bucks, so I reserved a room because it was the same price as the Best Western.