Isn’t That All?


Early morning. I ride my bike five miles home from dropping the car at our mechanic, across a dreary landscape, the trees still bare, the fields not yet green, or at least not fully so, the roadside bearing winter’s detritus: Empty cans of Bud Light and Twisted Tea, random bits of plastic and paper. Two miles of pavement, then the turn onto the graveled mountain road, the big mud holes mostly healed by the town grader. The stream rushing by on my right as I begin the climb, still flush with snowmelt running off the mountain. Past Michael’s house, set back high from the road, surrounded by prayer flags. He lives there alone, mid-50’s I’m guessing, very many tattoos, always a smile, always a wave. For a long time, he had no car, then he did, and now it seems that again he does not, and I pass him on the road often, walking with his granddaughter or his dogs (or his granddaughter and his dogs), and sometimes we chat. Sometimes we don’t.

I like riding along this stream, the sound of it, the weight of the air, heavy with moisture. I like climbing the road, it’s just the right pitch, and climbs for just long enough before I pull into our drive, past the birches, past the wide-eyed cows and their water trough, past the truck and my son’s first car: A 1990 Volvo station wagon.

When he brought it home I remembered suddenly the time my friends Josh and Trevor and I were driving from Cape Cod to Vermont in Josh’s old VW Bug, and how we broke down only a few dozen miles into our trip. I was 16, maybe 17, at the time, the same age my son is now. Josh and Trevor and I limped the car to the parking lot of a furniture super store, where we abandoned it and started hitching. It was late at night and no one would stop, and anyway we were arguing over whether or not to keep trying, or to curl up in the woods and sleep ’til daybreak, so we split up, and soon I got a ride that took me most of the way home. At some point the next day we reconvened, none the worse for wear, each with tales to tell. I cannot remember what happened to Josh’s car.

“I want to do stuff like that,” is what my son said when I told him about that night, now 30 years behind me. “Maybe,” I said, though I was thinking maybe not. But I could understand the yearning, the desire to have the experiences that make the stories, even if it means sleeping in a ditch. Even if it means hitchhiking through the night.

Because really, isn’t that all any of us want?

13 thoughts on “Isn’t That All?”

  1. My wish for your son is that his adventures remain undocumented, so they only live on in the telling, and don’t come back to haunt him in the future, in some unknown way. We all had that freedom as teens, to make mistakes and misadventures without the world having to know exactly, through pictures and texts, what really happened.

    1. Ya, lots of kids are, have been, or will be haunted by stupid pictures that every kid with a phone takes and uploads to the internet.

  2. Ben, you wrote a good one. Real good writing, the writing fine and w/ little surprises throughout.
    More than anything extant we readers want surprise, and you gave it to us, on a clean white plate, the surprises running up to the edges and holding, no spillage, no overrun, just surprise like a brand new shirt.in the mail from a long forgotten aunt.

  3. That car is big enough for all kinds of shenanigans…sleeping space is a must if you’re the shenanigan type. Hell no I don’t want to hitch hike in the dark!

  4. I started reading your blog and your books back when I had just had my first baby. That was almost 7 years ago now. I cannot believe your son is old enough to drive now but then again I cannot believe my son is old enough to do many of the things that he does so independently now. I am actually quite thankful that we lead a slow enough life that I am able to take the time to reflect and enjoy every little moment because soon enough it will be my husband and I who are contemplating such things as you just wrote about.

  5. Is it a car or very well upholsterd Tank. It is almost bomb proof and should surive almost anything. Good luck with the Volvo.

  6. Oh man, I’ve got a soft spot for Volvo station wagons from that era. I used to hate them, when I was a kid in the nineties. I remember commenting to my parents that I preferred cars with rounded edges. They shrugged and laughed. Now I love them square as can be.

    Cheers from Belgium

  7. I still drive a ’95 Volvo wagon. One saved my life, literally, 7 years ago. Fields not yet green? Wow. I am fighting with myself whether to try to take first cut next week if the weather is good. I’m worried the bobwhites aren’t done nesting, but the seed heads are plump and the grass is thick and tall.

  8. Love the Volvo! My mom’s blue 1981 Volvo station wagon lasted for almost 300,000, they are the best cars! Your son might already know this, but the key for winter driving in those things is studded snow tires–we used to call it the tank, it could go anywhere once the snow tires were on.

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