From time to time, I think there is not enough material in this adventure to merit the book-length treatment I have in mind. On the other hand, there is too much. Chapters and themes and sidebars pop up moment by moment.
A while back, we were driving west along the Washington side of the Columbia River, when we saw an unexpected sign for a ferry into Oregon. Why not? We went across a little bridge onto an island and followed a winding road for half an hour or so, hurrying to make the once-an-hour crossing. As we neared the landing, the one person working on deck was casting off the stern lines. When she saw us, she lowered the ramp and waited. She may have been kind and generous in all circumstances, but besides that, she was a VW nut. She had owned three vans herself, one of which dropped its engine in the road while she was driving. We talked vans all the way across the river.
Cruising down the main street of Florence, Oregon (population 8947), Ann spotted a restaurant with the name Hukilau, as in the song she and countless other children sang. Even now, Ann periodically renders a verse or two of it. So, of course we had a meal there. A beautiful meal. Asian fusion.Vegan.The owner/chef came out from the little kitchen to talk about the van. He had a Hawaiian father and a Japanese mother. He had studied cooking somewhere – I think he said France. We talked amiably, energetically, and, as usual in van talk, unreservedly . It made me wonder who I would be if I had always owned a classic VW van.
On Lopez Island in Puget Sound, I bought a short book in a tiny bookstore. The title, Rain, looked promising, and the blurbs were positive. It was a collection of essays about walking in the rain in England. It turned out to be an exercise in how to mismanage adjectives, and the people who wrote the blurbs were either blood relatives of the author or victims of extortion. In another tiny book shop somewhere along the way, I bought One Square Inch of Silence, by an acoustic environmentalist who drove a VW van across the country recording the sounds he encountered and reflecting on them. It’s a bit dense with technical stuff for my brain, and I’ve not finished it, but I intend to; someone who has recorded the sound of a butterfly’s wings is worth reading.
One Sunday, we took the chance of attending Mass at an Episcopal church along the way. Alas, it was what we feared, a made-up jumble of new agey language and moves, seemingly invented only yesterday by the local vestry. We went away gnawing on an old question, “shouldn’t religious rites be based on authority and tradition, and shouldn’t they employ gravitas and a sense of the sacred?”
In San Anselmo, California, the van lost a headlight, and I’d already been driving for days with only one taillight. Old VW parts, even lights, are not readily available. I found a shop back up 101 where we’d just come from. The owner/mechanic happened to be there (it was a Friday morning) to pick up something before closing and taking the day off. But he found lights in a box of cannibalized parts, and as is the way with old VWs, one thing led to another. I left at 3:00 in the afternoon with working lights and a number of other maintenance items addresssed including an oil change (which requires a specialist in old VWs). We talked the whole time he worked, and I learned a lot about the mechanics and operation of the van. I started that day worried and down. I ended it feeling optimistic and up.
Ann drove us over Donner Pass in the dark to Lake Tahoe where we settled in for a couple of days of walking and not using the van. Somewhat disappointingly, when we started to move on, the entire contents of the crankcase spewed out onto the pavement, the result of the filter having been improperly installed. Nothing a couple of hours of internet searching and phone calls and a fifty-mile tow to Reno couldn’t handle, though. That’s a story for another time.
Along about that same time, I got a phone call from my urologist’s P.A. Just checking to see how I was doing, and to tell me about a new program the office is offering. In it, she’ll call me once a month and ask some questions, and if something gets her attention, she’ll pass it on to the doctor. I could phone on her direct line, if I needed anything in between. Remarkable. I’d be able to get through the office gatekeepers, and my 81-year old plumbing would be tended to optimally. The questionnaire also included some queries that seemed to have little direct connection to my lower unit. One surprised me. “Do you have two goals you want to accomplish in the next year?” I suppose many people say no, and then she recommends that they get some. My experience suggests that having goals will not significantly limit the frequency of urination, but then I’m not a doctor. Anyway, I said, “Sure do. I have a book to write. And I’m determined to come to terms with changes in the liturgy and practice of my church.” I could have named some more.
There is a school of thought that views ambitious journeys, such as this one Ann and I are embarked upon, to be voyages of discovery. Check. Also, quests for God. Or, if you prefer, for meaning. Checking that one too.