Alone in a Crowd
“IT WAS A GOOD LEASE,” I said over my shoulder to the Hunting Club membership riding in the truck with me. Doc took up the front passenger seat, while Woodrow, Wrong Willie, and Jerry Wayne squished shoulder-to-shoulder in the back seat. “I’m gonna miss this one.”
Owing to circumstances beyond our control, we had to let the lease go. We’d spent the weekend packing our feeders and deer stands, and cleaning up the camping area. It looked as if we’d never been there when we pulled out, except for the rock fire pit.
“Who’d have thought there could be so many quail in one little patch of ground. It reminded me of how thick the birds were up on the Ivan lease.”
Doc grunted an answer as a roostertail of dust rose in the air behind the truck. The remainder of the membership was silent, so I turned on the radio. Rock and roll static filled the air, so I switched over to a satellite radio station. It came through as clear as those old hundred-thousand watt radio stations that used to roar up from Mexico when we were kids.
I glanced around at the guys who had their heads bent, as if in prayer. “I don’t like this new bubblegum rock and roll country they’re calling country music these days. I grew up on Merle and Buck and George Jones. That was good country.”
A loud, indescribable sound came from one of the cell phones behind me. I glanced up in the rearview mirror to see Jerry Wayne frantically pushing at his phone’s bright screen.
Noises came from the back and a rustle of activity made me think the boys were suddenly wrestling. My daughters used to do that at the end of long road trips. They’d be great until the last thirty miles or so, and then all that energy they’d been holding in, exploded into activity until someone under the age of ten wound up in a headlock.
That was back before we had to strap them in like test pilots.
The squalling cacophony coming from his phone quieted, probably as a result of Woodrow and Wrong Willie’s elbows jabbing Jerry Wayne in the ribs from both sides.
I turned the radio up little louder. “You guys just reminded me of those old ski trips we used to take when our kids were little. Those days were fun when we loaded everyone up in Suburbans and vans and drove to New Mexico.”
Wrong Willie chuckled from the back seat.
I looked into the mirror to see his response, but he was typing something on his phone. “That was back when we had to bring walkie talkies along to tell everyone we needed to stop for the bathroom, or to get something to eat, or for gas.”
It was in the late eighties and early nineties when we all had kids in school, ranging from three-year-olds to high-schoolers and college kids. Sometimes two families consolidated in the conversion vans, mixing in a blend of varying ages.
You never knew what would happen next. I recall times when we stopped for coffee and potty breaks in one town, and 20 miles away we all had to pull over again because some kid hadn’t made the bathroom visit, or needed to puke.
It was stunning. Someone always had to puke. Even these days we’ll pass one of those points on the highway and comment, “that’s where Steve had to roll out and upchuck.”
The dirt road we followed ended at a two-lane hogback. We rolled over a cattle guard and turned onto the pavement. The smooth surface seemed to soothe the crowd and my passengers settled in with a satisfied sigh.
“Look at the color in that sky.” I pointed through the windshield at the winter sun settling below the bare tree limbs.
Woodrow looked up. “You’re colorblind. You can’t see it.”
Doc spoke without taking his eyes from the cell phone in his hands. “I wish I could, but all those new wind turbines are blocking my view.”
Encouraged by his response, I rested my wrist across the steering wheel. “I can see enough bright yellow in the sky to make me feel good. Well, I guess we need to find another lease.”
Four “umm humms.”
A deer slipped across the road far ahead and I adjusted my speed just in case there were more. Jerry Wayne once drove a mite too fast down a similar highway at the same time a cow stepped out of the bushes and trotted across both lanes of traffic.
He almost missed her.
It was a good thing I was driving. A flock of wild turkeys suddenly burst out from behind a thick, high clump of prickly pear. I slowed as they crossed the road one at a time.
That road soon ended at the main highway, and I steered left.
The four-lane was empty, and I accelerated to match the speed limit. We cruised in silence as night fell. It wasn’t as dark inside the truck, because of the dash lights and the intense glow from four cell phones.
I periodically checked the interior, using the mirror to peer into the back seat. It looked as if all the boys were praying in front of tiny campfires.
After half an hour, I turned the radio up a little louder, just to fill the silence. I wished for a walkie talkie to ask whether anyone needed to stop for gas.
I addressed the assemblage. “Anyone need to stop to use the bathroom?”
Their silence was my answer.
“You know, even though we have devices to communicate, I wish it was the old days when people talked to each other. Road trips aren’t as fun as they used to be.”
No one answered because they were too interested in what was on those little screens.
“Our next lease is going to be so far in the boondocks we won’t be able to get a cell signal.”
“Amen,” they said in unison and went back to their devices.
I drove on, alone in a crowd.
Email Reavis Wortham at ContactUs@fishgame.com