A giant in the rain

April 28, 2008

Time is a slippery thing, and the least little bit of inattention on my part, and I never know when I’ll find myself.

I mean “when” in memory, I suppose, the real thing, at least as we understand it, being so damned linear. If it weren’t for memory, after all, everything would always be “now.” Boring. I guess it works for cows and chickens, which is probably for the best, since who would want kine and fowl to imagine that there will a tomorrow for them involving Mickey D’s and The Colonel?

Anyway, maybe it was the wine and the food or the sound of the rain, but I slid back half a century, and several hundred miles, to the night I saw the giant.

But perhaps I am too abrupt.

Saturday night I went out for dinner with friends, a celebration of the birthdays of two of this little clique that travel around alarming people at various restaurants.

There were six of us, and, gas prices being what they are, we carpooled in Sal’s van. I am hardly ever a passenger, so this was a treat. Sal, a bonafide Italian from New Jersey, had his GPS on and set to speak Italian, but we got there anyway.

Then there was dinner, as a real boomer of a thunderstorm stomped around outside. Since I wasn’t driving, I relaxed my rule against having more than two glasses of wine.

By “relaxed,” I mean, basically, tossed, shredded, and totally ignored it. I may have had as many as eight, but I won’t swear to it. I was very calm. Maybe that’s when I lost my grip on time, in the back seat of Sal’s Chevy beating its way back home through the rain in the inky dark.

I closed my eyes, and suddenly I was in the back seat of our family station wagon, a tan 1958 Dodge Sierra the size of an efficiency apartment.

We were somewhere between western Pennsylvania and our home in north Georgia, back when most of the highways were still two-lane affairs, with mom-and-pop restaurants and motels and gas stations. The trip from hither to yon was a good 20 hours or more. Today, you can do it in 12 or less.

My father and mother loomed, vague shadows in the front seat, now and then outlined sharply by headlights from oncoming traffic, or less sharply by the occasional neon sign coasting by in the rain.

My brother was asleep in the seat beside me, and had sprawled to take up most of it. I leaned against the door, looking out, but not looking at anything. Staring, not watching.

The hour was around 3:30 a.m., and little traffic on the road. My dad almost always drove straight through, to save time and money. We were in Virginia, probably, because Virginia went on forever. I drifted in and out, restless and unable to fall into a deep sleep. The tires hissed in counterpoint to the tick-tick of the expansion joints on the highway, the thwapping of the wipers and the steady rumble of the big V8.

Somewhere in there I saw the giant. Just a huge outline, black against black, striding down the Blue Ridge right along beside us. Not close, but far, up against the horizon. Yes, I know it was just some figment of my bored mind. I even knew it then. But I pretended it was real. It never stopped, just strode on and on, not threatening, not paying any mind to me in my little bubble of warm, dry air, just a force, like the world itself, barreling on without regard to these little sparks and wheels rolling through the endless night.

Somewhere along there, amongst the mountains where my ancestors settled so long ago, I finally fell asleep. When I awoke again, it was daylight, and we were pulling into some diner for breakfast. I looked at the ragged ridges to the west, but there was nothing there. Even as I remembered that it was a figment, I still pictured the giant striding along, dragging the night and the rain along with him, unconcerned with lesser things.

Sal hit the play button on his CD player and Luciano Pavarotti, a giant of another kind, started belting out some aria or another. I blinked my way back from my time travel. Sal, for reasons best known to him, had reset the GPS unit to speak French, which he does not understand.

But we found our way home anyway.


© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

“Burger to go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:




One of the inevitable consequences of getting to be a certain age is that one finds it irresistible to notice the differences between what things were like “back in the day” and say, right now.

I saw a T-shirt recently that encapsulated these phenomena succinctly with the slogan “The older I get, the better I used to be.”

Everybody does this sort of thing as they age. A guy might remember the day he picked up a V-8 engine block and wrestled it onto the bed of a pickup truck. He does not remember that he spent the next few days moving very carefully and whimpering.

A funny thing happened the other day. I was at home, not planning to go into the newsroom until later in the day because I had a night meeting to cover.

My editor called my cell phone, and said to prepare myself. A high school in the district I cover was reportedly in lockdown. One of the students had text mailed his or her parent, who works for our company. Said parent called the school, but didn’t learn much, and also called the newsroom.

“You might have to drop everything and get over there,” Janet said. “I’ll call you when I know more.”

I said, OK, let me know and I’ll be on my way. I got everything together because I didn’t want to waste time…the school is more than an hour away from where I live.

I sat and thought about how I would cover the event; talk to neighbors, parents, cops and so on….

It turned out to be not much. Two former students were found to be hanging around and, these days being these days, the administration tucked everybody away until the two youths could be gotten off campus.

I relaxed and went back to whatever I had been doing. And then something hit me.

My reaction.

I think it was pretty professional. No panic. Getting my ducks in a row and bracing myself, knowing I might be dealing with some pretty distraught people.

But no shock. No surprise that something like that could happen here.

After Columbine, after Virginia Tech, the first anniversary of which was only a couple of days away, after too many other school shootings, we already know that it can happen. Something like that can happen “any-here.” Any time.

My mind was occupied with the mechanics of getting there, who to talk to, how to cover it. I felt no horror, though that would surely come as I went through the process.

The idea of a mass shooting at a school has become so commonplace in the pantheon of tragedy that it has become, in a sort of freakish way, commonplace. We know how to cover them, as we know now how to cover airplane, auto, and train crashes, building collapses, violent protests.

I spend a little time trudging down the hallways of public schools. I always marvel at how young the students are. I was married for the first time a year after I left high school. I felt mature enough. Everybody told me we were too young. They were right.

The schools today are bright, comfortable, with technological stuff I couldn’t even have imagined back then. Walking in my high school was like entering a crowded, sweaty cavern, dim and noisy and reeking of whatever colognes and perfumes were in vogue, usually applied, judging by their intensity, with a ladle.

I walk through these new schools and I want to go and do high school all over again. Except this time I would skip the bullies and the pimples, and have better luck with girls and math. Or so I like to think.

Our halls 40-some years ago were dark and crowded, but you didn’t worry about being killed at high school. Stomped in the boys’ room and humiliated, yes, called “Chubby” by the P.E. coach, who was the last vestige of the Neanderthal race known to exist, and called worse things by the jocks, but not killed outright.

Artsy bookworms like me could stew about revenge all we wanted to, but we never heard of any victim of bullying coming to school armed to the teeth, murder in his soul.

Keep in mind this was in the semi-rural South. If you’d look in the trunks or on the floorboards of most of the boys’ cars in the parking lot, including mine, you might well find rifles and/or shotguns, in case we decided to go out plinking cans or hunting small game.

So, I go to open houses at schools, see the shiny technologies and the bright rooms and feel a certain envy. And then I remember that I was not stunned at the idea there could have been another senseless tragedy at that high school, or anywhere, and I am not so certain at all that I’d want to be there, under that additional worry, ever.

© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:



Mountains in my shoe

April 8, 2008

So, I am standing on sand that once formed the Appalachians, back when they were bigger than the Rockies. The temperature is 45 or so, the wind hitting 30. A mist of powdery sand rips along the tide-line, around my legs, and keeps racing south, as though late for an appointment. Bits and pieces of me: The dander, the odd loose hair, assorted molecules of the kind that would allow a bloodhound to track me, tear away and scatter downwind. I am disintegrating, bit by bit, as is the world around me.

I am not especially worried about this. In fact, at the moment I am trying to get the goddamned pipers to stand still enough to be photographed. But the one I’m trying to get twitches and fidgets, darts his sharp little bill into the sand, ending the life of some wriggling bit of protein.

I am not worried because I am fairly used to the idea of mortality. Not looking forward to it, I hasten to add, but I know it’s there.

I can’t say the same for the piper, or the little bit of life it just speared out of the sand. I doubt either has given the matter much thought. They’re probably the better for it.

That same day, I managed to get a photo of a Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel. Now, I’m no nature photographer; you’re not going to find me on my belly communing with leeches in an attempt to capture an image of the Great Crested Whosis. But I like to keep my trusty digital camera at hand when I’m out poking around the more civil fringes of The Great Out-there and see what I can stumble onto.

The fox squirrel – the largest squirrel in North America, is another victim of our energies. Unlike his much smaller and more adaptable cousin, the gray squirrel, the fox squirrel needs old growth forests for habitat, and we have cut down most of them. His original range stretched from central New Jersey south through eastern Pennsylvania and down the length of the Delmarva Peninsula.

The squirrels are now found only in a few places, like here, in the loblolly pine forests of Chincoteague Island on the Virginia coast.

The squirrel was introduced, or re-introduced, to the 14,000 National Wildlife Refuge here in the 1970s. There are about 150 or so of them here now.

I got a good photo of the little feller eating an acorn by the roadside. He flashed off into the woods and then sat watching me from within a thicket. He did not look particularly worried about the future. So far as anybody has been able to tell, most animals have no sense of imagination. This explains the lack of worry.

I had read long ago that the sands of the barrier islands here on the eastern seaboard were the pulverized remains of the ancient mountain ranges formed 300 million years ago. Some of those stones had been ancient seashores much earlier than that. And now most of the high peaks of that giant range were working their way into the low-cut shoes I had foolishly worn on this early spring day.

I stand braced against the wind, feeling very temporary.


© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites: