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.

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