Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, January 26, 2019, 12:01 p.m.
I was tooling around Spartanburg, driving a hot rod that looked like about a ’57 Thunderbird. It was two-tone red and white. I stopped at a drive-in for two hot dogs and a chocolate shake. I drove over to the Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds and took a few hot laps around the old dirt track where NASCAR used to race.
I was dreaming. When I awakened, I sat up on the side of the bed. Sometimes I have no idea why I dream something. I don’t often dream at all. Sometimes I dream about a person who has been dead for 20 years and I barely knew even when he or she was alive.
This time I knew exactly why I dreamed what I did.
Yesterday I picked up my old pickup truck, the one that hadn’t been cranked in a year and a half and was just rotting in the yard, over near the fence. It needed a new fuel tank, a good deal of engine and transmission work and a whole lot of cleanup. I hadn’t even realized that some nearby hoodlums had busted out the passenger-side window. The interior was full of spider webs and mold.
It looked a sight. Now it looks a different kind of sight. Getting that ’95 Ford F-150 running again meant a lot to me, and it was one of the first things I thought of when I unexpectedly came into some money. I didn’t do the work, but the people who did put a lot of care into it that well justified the spending of some of my new money.
I can’t remember the last time I was as excited. In a way, it was kind of ridiculous. I remember many years ago when I took my teen-aged niece with me to write about the stock car race in Sonoma, California. We were about to take a ferry ride across San Francisco Bay, and a silver-haired man who looked liked he fancied himself Cary Grant pulled away in a Porsche Boxster.
Ella sniffed. “It’s ridiculous for a man that old to be driving a car like that,” she said.
Ford pickups take me back to a time when I terrorized the muddy dirt roads of the farm, taking hay to the cows and slop to the hogs. The family had many different brands of cars over the years, but we always had Ford trucks. I’ve owned two Dodge trucks in recent years and felt a little treasonous to the family legacy.
Last night I drove it to Laurens to write about the high school basketball games. I listened to the Derailers on the cassette player. I love it when the music meets my mood. The cassette had been sticking out of the player ever since the last time I cranked the Ford. Somehow it still sounded nifty.
I’m taking this bar exam / Under a neon sign / I’m gonna graduate to get your off of my mi-i-i-i-ind …
I wish I was middle-age crazy, but the likelihood is that I’m late-age crazy. If this is middle age, I’d hate old age, because I can’t imagine how miserable 120 would be. It’s sort of like colleges, one of which I went to and another I might watch play basketball this afternoon. Mid-major. What an absurd term. For there to be a mid-major, someone would have to be low-major. Furman and Presbyterian are low-major. There is honor in that. I wouldn’t trade my degree or my love of the Paladins and Blue Hose for the world. Two people have already asked if my beautiful old truck is for sale. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, either. I embrace my old-age craziness.
The truck doesn’t seem that old to me, but I lose track of the significance of its age. It is to my age what a ’57 T-Bird was when I was a kid. It’s like mentioning Willie Mays to a kid today. At some point, I realize the kid wasn’t born until 25 years after the Say Hey Kid hung up his cleats. It’s like hearing a deacon in the church reminisce about Red Grange back when I was sitting in the back rows for Sunday services, wondering if I still was sweating last night’s beer.
Of course, they don’t make ’em like my truck anymore. I don’t need those power windows and cup holders everywhere. I got a clutch pedal, five in the floor and a cassette player to match the hundreds of cassettes I never threw away.
I think I might listen to the Dillards after while.
This is a truck a man has to drive. All he has to do is guide these newfangled contraptions.
Of course, I’m probably going to have to buy one of them, too. I’ve gotten right attached to satellite radio.
Life is hard / No matter where you go / It’s a tortured path / Tough row to hoe / When the wheels spin / Got a heavy load / Hoping I can get / To the paved road.
Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.
The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.