Rites of spring.

The birds pass through where I am from. So do the Interstate truckers. But, all prairie birds fly home again, with songs from far off lands, and so do I. Truckers, they often get bladder infections and dull their long hauling by the hum of the road.

There’s a welcome quiet to the flat lands when you’ve been exposed too long to greater heights. The same quiet I once mistook for boredom before I left. And after a few many years in the western sun, you forget the world was ever green. Not to mention, independent of our latitude and longitude, the haste of our busy lives — that demand more and more of us for less and less–  rob us of these moments.   Till something breaks us from our routine and freshens our eyes with the salt of the earth. The sum total of it is we forget, till we remember. And what it takes to remember are often the things we don’t plan for. Then, we come home and see it, as if for the first time.

Many of our American voices had the prairie in their blood. I hear it’s vanishing. I hope it doesn’t take the song with it.   Where will all the birds go when these wet lands disappear? Old repurposed railroad tracks? Or to nest in among the junk washed into the delta of the last century? The century of progress. Or does it live on in the back of old book stores where Carl Sandburg finds a home still?

Spring makes believers of us all. You hear it in the sermon of the air.
I trust in spring. It may be the fool in me- but then, a fool I am. The world needs its fools, too. How else could we face the darker parts of life in all their certainty? That ancient pagan blood in me hails Spring above else. Even if it doesn’t come in earnest till a month or so into the baseball season. Mother earth may be confused by its recent timing, but I am not.

I think of Peter Sellers in that simple concerto – Being There and the secrets we harvest from fools wise enough to tend their garden. It’s of course easier to sing its praises when I’ve been thus removed from the winter that proceeded it. But there are many types of winter; not all of which adhere to the barometer.

There aren’t many corn fields left, you really have to get far from the city to find them. But eventually, that’s all you’ll find. When I was younger, I couldn’t wait to get where there were mountains and oceans. There was a kid. Dan P.  Who’s mom worked for the airlines. He had been everywhere it seemed. Every Christmas vacation it felt like he would return with a tan just to taunt us – and we’d all take turns interrogating him.  His modesty about what life was like beyond the Mississippi would annoy me.

The call of the frontier hasn’t diminished I guess. We all still head to California looking for gold. Except now, there isn’t a store run by Mormans outside of Culver, MO that manufactures wagon wheels. But it still begins with a tale of what lies beyond the endless plain. In addition to Dan and his mom who worked for United, there was Randy. Randy would pack a bus and drive to Colorado to ski. A mythical sport indeed reserved for people of higher class.  He was cursed with braces at an early age to repent for being rich in cultural experience.

In Colorado, they had snow for a purpose.  Our family always went east and south and were limited in our range to whatever adventure lay within two day’s drive in a wagon.  And dad didn’t fly a plane he couldn’t pilot and he never learned to fly.  Which meant the western range and the land of cowboys might as well have been on Mars.  The Griswolds were an ominous warning to all Chicagoland families who ventured too far in the family wagon.  Wall-e-world was just too far.  And an albatross all its own.  But those mountains and those oceans have a far reach to the wild imaginings of a land locked heart.  You’d hear them call  in the whistle of a west bound train at night.  That Santa Fe diesel.  Every night, come bed time. A dream of train smoke.

I haven’t heard a train whistle in some time. It has a different ring to it these days. They don’t come as often as they once did.  But, they’re there still.  If you listen for them.


The Pineapple Hill Hang Et al

I Lyfted a dancer named Jazmin to the Odd Ball Cabaret Easter Sunday just before the sun went down. The Al Pastor spits were under construction on Sepulveda and the roll top low riders were gone for the day around the corner at The Horseless Carriage, but you could still smell the fresh coat of wax.

And Jazinine’s stripper body lotion.  She was a vanilla girl.

I don’t want to generalize, or sound insensitive, but for the sake of classification, there’s two kinds of strippers- at least the ones I’ve Lyfted in my car-  the one that shows up in sparkles and heels and the incognito one, dressed as if they’re going to the gym.

Jazmin was  the latter.  Destinee was the former. I doubted either performed to Jack Johnson tunes.    Destinee spent the whole ride out to Ontario’s Tropical Lei negotiating a deal that would send her to Arizona for a month.  “Listen, I’m not going to Tuscon for five grand.”

I didn’t blame her.   I was doing the math in my head.  I wondered if the Arizona gig was the kind that allowed her to claim travel deductions.  Unlike Jazmin, Destinee smelled like an ash tray.

“I mean, we hanged out and I was like fine, for a couple of hours, but for a month… In Arizona.”  I was beginning to realize Tuesdays at the Tropical Lei was just a side hustle.

Her eyelashes were like war paint.  She put on her face the whole way while barking into her Bluetooth.  I turned up classical 91.5.  Bizet’s Carmen came on to lend a little irony.  I keep a good detachment most of the time unless a customer wants to talk, but I was moved by the image of a woman  putting on war paint as if she was about to face battle.

Jazmin wore a different mask.  And spent the whole way up Sepulveda in a contemplative state.  There was an athlete’s concentration.  You could tell she was willing herself into something.  Destinee was farther up the road.  And had passed that stop long ago.

After I dropped Jazmin off, I picked up a mother and her Abuela and took them to a storefront church where the chairs are empty and all the hands are raised and the singing in Spanish fills the dark night.  These kinds of places stuck between bail bondsman and where you can get a pay day advance flank the neon with a different light.  My car smelled like vanilla for a while.  We have a smell.  All of us.  From the couple you pick up at the Korean BBQ to the line cook steeped in grease.  To fear itself.

But cologne is the worst.

Soren is back as a “client of the Pineapple Hill Bar and Saloon again.” But just weekends now. He used to be a “client from twelve noon till two am every day.”

He’s back cause of some girl he met there once.” I will go back till I find her again and when I do, it will be a good night.”

He looks at me in the mirror. “She will remember me.”  He sounded like an Armenian General McArthur.

“Yeah, Pineapple Hill’s got a certain… charm, attracts a particular…” I searched for the right word and opted to repeat his. “client.”

I quietly wondered how something could be a saloon and a bar.  Felt like some kind of koan only a Don Henley lyric would unlock …

People talk when you don’t.  And certain people prefer to talk to strangers.  Soren was of that type.  In the brief 1.4 miles it took to get from his spot to the Pineapple Hill Bar and Saloon I learned more about him than many of my cousins.

For example, Soren used to go to work tell, “the guys on job site what to do, get materials, then go to Pineapple Hill Saloon, and then check back on the guys at 3.30 to see what they did, and then… back to The Hill.  It was my job.  Back and forth.  But no more.”

I waited for him to clue me in on the difference as I looked at the clock on the dash and that it read 3.30.

“Well, I hope you find her, man.”

“So, do I, friend. So do I.”  After fighting with the door handle he got out.  I watched him as he fixed his suede jacket then rolled the windows down to diffuse the cheap cologne.