Hello, people. This is from my series I call, “Stuff I cut from the book”.
I just finished my memoir-a book that I’ve spent five years on, and in that time it changed, it morphed, so I cut out a lot of stuff that was no longer relevant. Some of it’s funny, some of it’s just interesting, and some of its’ wow-heavy. Some of the pieces are all three—like this piece, an incident was from early 2012. I was on the road a lot and saw a lot of people affected by the Great Recession. Like this scene:
It’s April of 2012 and I’m driving down Route 31 in Indiana late at night. I see these odd, intermittent flashes of light in the road ahead of me. I’m squinting to see what it is and should I slow up?-- when I realize that the lights are sparks—sparks are showering off the rear bumper of an overloaded station wagon as it bottoms out and periodically scrapes the road.
There’s a mattress stacked on top of the car and the wind has caught the front of it and it’s being bent up and back by the wind, reducing the car’s effective mpg to…six. It’s bent back enough so that I can see the surface of the mattress through my windshield from thirty yards back. It’s a used mattress. And when I say used – I mean used.
This mattress had history. A queen-size history of nocturnal secrets laid bare to the night sky. It had an overall dinginess and a scattering of bodily fluids that spread far from the center of the mattress where one might typically have accidents.
There was evidence of Coffee spills. Of pee stains. There were large stress or fever-induced sweat stains., There were menstrual miscalculations. There were numerous stains of what appeared to be sexual activity and I wondered about their consensuality.
I drove behind the car wondering who the occupants were and where they were headed. The back of the car is full of Hefty bags, most likely stuffed with their belongings. – Because it’s a sad fact of life in this recession of 08’ that Hefty bags are often the luggage of the Have-Nots. Or the Once-Hads.
And suddenly I notice that sitting in between all the Hefty bags are two girls. They look to be maybe 10 years old and are staring back at me with bored, dejected looks on their faces. Looks that said If they could have anything they wanted for Christmas—it would have been an Amber Alert.
A few miles later both of our cars pull off the same exit to get gas. I’m filling up my truck at the pump next to them. I watch the Dad go inside and pre-pay for the gas. That seems to be one of those basic distinctions in America; you can either swipe a plastic card at the pump with no concern what the total will be, getting your free car wash offers and twenty cents off from your grocery points—or you aren’t creditworthy so you’re forced to go in and count out cash to an attendant since you’re not trusted to pump gas first and pay after the fact. The Dad came back out without any impulse buys in his hand but I’m sure that not long ago he had that luxury of carefree credit card swiping.
The Mom got out of the car to empty trash and stretch She was a blonde whose roots were so bad it looked like she was wearing a yarmulke. I wondered if the length of her roots were an accurate time line of this families seeming downturn?
Dad popped the hood to check the oil. I want to make small talk with him. I guess just want to connect with the guy, point out the absurdities that life presents, because I feel for him. We’re both middle-age white dudes and somewhere in me I know that if just a few of the wrong factors came together this tableau could easily be me. Except without the blonde wife. I just have a cat.
This family is likely headed out of state. Probably to Florida or Arizona – that’s the New Promised Land for us Mid-westerners. They’ve heard about the good call-center jobs down in Tampa or maybe his brother-in-law can get him work with a mortgage processor in Phoenix.
As This scene unfolds in south central Indiana, I can’t help but wonder if maybe this is the same couple that John Mellencamp wrote a little ditty about so long ago, Jack and Diane. They pull their car back out onto the highway and I sing under my breath, Oh yeah, life goes on - long after the thrill of living is gone.