Wind turbines near Sweetwater, Texas
Most of the last weekend in May was given to a road trip with purpose. A month earlier, son Jack finished his Master’s in substance-abuse counseling, and in mid-May began a job with a residential treatment center in Lubbock, Texas, 390 road miles west of us, in the South Plains region of our huge state. I volunteered to help with the move. Step 1 on Friday the 27th (not incidentally our 33rd wedding anniversary, which we celebrated earlier) was to pick up a big-ass (that’s a technical term in the Lone Star State) U-Haul truck, a 26-footer. Enormous and a bit daunting. The eight miles home were at low speeds. Drove into the alley behind our house to test clearances for the next morning, parked, and headed to sleep. Linda picked Jack up later that night.
Let me back up (but not in the big-ass truck): while rooting around the attic above the garage that Friday, looking for our old kitchen table (that was headed to Lubbock) and some parts for Jack’s huge drum kit, I came across two pieces of paper from my “attic archives” that made me smile: a 1974 membership certificate for United Air Lines’ 100,000 Mile Club, and the receipt from my first air ticket to Europe, July 1971 (more on that in a couple of months, on or near the 40th anniversary). The United document was a little marker on how much more mobile we have become — back in the 1960s and 1970s, achieving the 100K milestone was a big deal, something that took years. Now it’s eight months, at least for me.
Saturday morning was warm and windy. The two laborers Jack hired to help load had truck trouble, so it was father and son. No problem, said the old man, let’s get at it! First stop was the storage unit that housed most of his furniture. We got that loaded in an hour, zip, zip, zip. Next step was loading some stuff at home, including a truly enormous chest Linda and I bought a few months after we married.
Moving that hunk of craftsmanship – it’s still beautiful, and still in great condition – prompted a little digression in my mind about our material world. Indeed, it reminded me of a book entitled Material World, essentially a series of photos and essays about the sum total of what different families around the world own (each family was photographed in front of their dwelling with either all or a selection of their earthly possessions). It seems to me that a move is one of those moments when we can think clearly about our stuff. How much do we need? Is it the right stuff? Will it last longer than we do?
Conant Ball was, as I recall from 1978, the last maker of solid-wood (no veneers, no chip board, no plastic) furniture in Massachusetts, a state that had a significant furniture business from Colonial times. It’s gone now, of course, and one wonders if we Americans haven’t made the wrong decisions about quantity versus quality. We seem to want to have more cheap things, imported, rather than stuff that endures. As I mused about this, I thought about the state of our public goods, too. Soon, our truck tires would roll across roads and over bridges that were worn out or nearly so. And a tide of conservatives say lower taxes. Sigh.
Okay, back to work. We finished loading at noon, enjoyed a big burrito, took showers, and got on the road a little after one. Driving the rig on the freeway was actually easy. Sitting up high gave you a good view of the road, it handled smoothly, all well. Until the coolant warning light came on about 30 miles from home. Jack phoned U-Haul roadside assistance. Helper 1 provided clear guidance: check the coolant level, if okay proceed. On its own, the warning light went off, and we headed west. Bing, back on. Jack phoned again, and Helper 2, a total bonehead, told us we had best head back to a U-Haul center to have it checked out. Happily, it was less than ten miles behind us. In we went, two mechanics waiting for us (that part was good), and they basically confirmed that Helper 2 was of no help.
Back on the road, west, past Abilene, off I-20 just past Sweetwater and onto U.S. Highway 84. Wind turbines as far as the eye could see, cranking out electricity to keep us cool, heat our food, run our TVs. Texas leads the nation in wind power, and it was not hard to see why. What was interesting was that our Energy Past was interspersed, in the form of oil rigs, some rusted and abandoned and some still pumping. And there were new gas wells, too, exploiting a source that is becoming more important (too bad we Americans are so hopeless in formulating sensible energy policy). We made it to Lubbock before eight, detouring to the airport to get Jack’s car, then back to town. I was real, real happy to back the beast into Jack’s driveway at 3517 29th Street, and hop out. A long ride.
We zipped over to the Cap Rock Café on 34th, tucked into some bison burgers and beans, headed to his motel room, and clocked out. Up early Sunday morning, a big breakfast, and began to unload. He’s got a great little house, perfect for a young fellow, just south of the campus of Texas Tech University. We got the truck cleaned out fast. One of Jack’s co-workers at the treatment center, a big strong guy named Mark, helped with the big chest and some other stuff, which was good. Linda arrived about 9:30, and helped set stuff up. At noon, two more of Jack’s work colleagues, Mandy and Jay, arrived with lunch. Really nice. We worked hard all afternoon, cleaning and setting stuff up. My last job was to fix the stopper in the bathroom sink, a simple task that turned into a two-hour hoo-hah, but as we say in Texas, I got ‘er done. Jack drove us to the airport and we flew home – the jet airplane is such a wonderful invention, 40 minutes to cover what took us over 400 minutes the day before. I was plumb wore out, but happy to have helped.