Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Thing? Living the Childhood Dream

Long stretches of lots and lots of lots and lots

When I was a kid, our family vacations consisted of driving interminably long distances. It wasn’t because my old man liked to drive, it was because we lived in the Southwest and all the other family lived in Michigan. So it was we found ourselves motoring along for hours on end, seemingly for days on end, every summer.

The southwest contains, even today, long stretches of highway that offer only lots and lots of nothing but lots and lots. It was even more so back in the early 1960’s. In those desolate stretches the only entertainment to be had were the large, garish billboards advertising roadside stops.

Beyond advertising for the mundane travelling necessities of food and fuel, the very best billboards promised the unusual. “See the two-headed rattlesnake!” “Pet the five-legged goat!” “See the rattlesnake garden!” Those were the signs that attracted my attention, and would have guaranteed my patronage 

“Dad, can we stop at the Jack-a-lope museum? Puh-leeeease? 

“Oh, no. It’s just a gimmick, and those places always want a couple more cents a gallon for the gas.” 

(Bear in mind, this is when you got change from your quarter when you bought a gallon of petrol.) 

By the manner in which he approached it, one would think my dad liked driving. Once he started, he only stopped when in danger of running out of fuel, or when he became exhausted. My sister and I learned early on that full bladders would never trump a partially full gas tank in the old man’s mind. We usually arrived at our grandparents house dehydrated, parched tongues swollen. The chance of Dad stopping without cause was nil. He wanted the driving portion of the trip over, and the sooner, the better. 

Dad’s immutable “no roadside sideshow stops” rule was a frustration for me. I knew deep in my heart that he would someday realize he raised a son bereft of the deeper knowledge such places could instill. I felt sorry for myself, but more so for Dad. He would suffer inconsolable regret; of that I was certain. 

A beacon of promise

As the family jalopy rolled along the endless miles my imagination went wild with speculation on what I was missing. The subject of my musings changed with whatever oddity the most recent billboard promised. However, there was one subject that truly fueled the conflagration of my imagination: The Thing. While two-headed calves might warrant one, maybe two, billboards, The Thing appeared on a continuous string of bright yellow walls lining the otherwise boring ribbon of asphalt. They burned brightly in the sun, each one a beacon of invitation to sip from the cup of knowledge that could illuminate my young mind on the mysteries of the universe. I could feel their pull. I knew I would be a better person, have a brighter future, if I was just allowed the briefest glimpse of The Thing. 

The Thing? What is it?”
The Thing? Mystery of the desert!” 
The Thing? Where did it come from?”

Alas, it was not to be. I would never cast my eyes upon The Thing. Oddly enough, I somehow survived. Eventually the rueful reflections on what my life could have been, had I been allowed to see The Thing, faded from my consciousness. 

My youthful deprivation has recently been brought back into the light. Circumstances in life have me temporarily commuting the sixty miles between Casa Grande and Tucson, Arizona daily. Along the stretch of I-10 a brilliant yellow sign with red letters snagged my attention out the corner of my eye. “The Thing?” I barely saw it. Was it real, or just a flashback from my childhood? Twenty miles farther down the highway a second yellow billboard confirmed the first sighting. “The Thing? 89 miles away! Exit 322.”

Only 89 miles out of the way (a mere 178 miles round trip)

My heart leapt. At first, it was simply from the rush of childhood memories. Then my heart skipped a beat when it struck me: I am the one driving! A quick glance at the gas gauge showed that fuel would be a necessity in 89 miles. Kismet, Karma, coincidence, or simply good advertising space, it didn’t matter. If the key to the knowledge of the universe is offered a second time, you’d be a damn fool not to grab it. That it was 89 miles beyond my destination was of no consequence.

The realization of a childhood dream!

The fulfillment of my childhood dream has not resulted in all I had imagined. I’m still stupid in the ways of the universe, and a dollar poorer in the process. But still, a mere dollar is a bargain to live the childhood dream.

The thing in all its glory. Funny.... I don't feel any smarter.

1 comment:

  1. Check the box next to "Saw The Thing". I'm SO glad you stopped.