On the Road Again

On  late Saturday mornings, my father would sometimes walk up from the office to the house and make an inquiry, “Hey, want to go for a ride? I have some bushings that need to be repaired.”

Three hours later and halfway across the state, I find myself in the smallest of cottage-industry shops in the middle of nowhere.  There are streams and lakes and fields and forests—and very few people.  The late-afternoon sunlight comes in through the dirty windows of a repurposed filling station, standing as only one of three buildings at a singular intersection, marking the community’s center. Half a dozen people are bent over vice grips wrapping copper wiring around parts—by hand.

Unable to stifle my surprise, I lean into my father’s space to verify, “They wind these by hand?”

“Yes. The labor and new copper wiring are less expensive than a brand new part.  They will ship them out when they are finished.”

Spirituality

On the drive home, we take a forty-mile detour (eighty in total) to purchase all-beef bratwurst from one of the only small meat suppliers left in the state.  There is an upcoming drivers’ picnic to celebrate the end of the school year.  Forty miles is nothing when considering some of the travel distances that the contracted drivers cover for charter trips or a single high-school athletic meet:  three hours out, play ball and three hours back.  In time, I learn to ask my dad about how far or how long the ride might be before making any solid commitments to a Saturday ride.

The bus service my parents owned, coupled with a propensity for long family road trips, means that I grew up reading maps and on the road again.  There were “day trips” to Minneapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee or the Quad Cities, when a minor-league ball team needed transportation.  There were driving marathons to and from Florida, California and the East Coast.

A keen observer of design—both natural and manufactured—my father never tired of heading out on a road trip to appreciate the world around him and the people he served.  A teacher by vocation, he was inherently curious and ready to discuss potential design improvements on almost any object or subject.  He relished his personal time while driving.  In retrospect, those long hours were the essence of his personal practice.

Napa Valley, Pizza & Spirituality

The gauge on my physical vessel is on “E” as I park in front of a middle-of-nowhere gas station. There is a huge sign in front, advertising freshly made pizza.

“What to order…” my mind is moving ahead of my feet. Hunger disquiets my mind like almost nothing else.  And, racing on an empty belly, takes me far and away from peaceful center.   I march over to the food counter feeling like an edgy, empty creature.

A man in his early 20’s approaches me, “Do you know what you would like to order?”

Grabbing a tri-fold menu from the clear plastic dispenser on the wall, I look down and answer, “No. But, it has to be substantial in calories and interesting in terms of flavor.”

“If you will permit me,” he says gently and patiently, “I can make some recommendations based upon combinations that our regular customers enjoy.”

This sentence causes a thin and brittle rod of urban self-importance that has been buried inside of me to snap. My hunger suddenly does not seem that important.  I take a breath to readjust, wanting to meet the kind offer of this man’s exceptional professional care.

Spirituality

Listening carefully as my maître d’ of gas-station-pizza pies proceeds to outline “his kitchen’s” most favored combinations, he and I become two souls bent over one of Napa Valley’s best wine lists or, perhaps, a most exclusive restaurant’s menu. It amazes me that he, through the tone of his voice, choice of words and the cadence of his descriptions can transport me—transport us—to a place without time inclusive of luxury and exclusivity. To receive this gift of his singular countenance all I need to do is to step back from my own conceit and allow him to play his professional role.

Going outside to be under the sun’s light while the pizza is baking, I wonder how many opportunities to enjoy another human being’s countenance I have missed because of an absent-minded push or assertion on my part, regarding “me” needs, “my” opinions or the social roles I thought I needed to play.

Thank you, pizza man, for your superior care and the gift of this teaching.

Sports Cars, Walker Art Center & Technology

Long, long ago, on one early Sunday morning, I made tracks with my husband through the empty streets of Minneapolis. On the pristine white of a newly stretched snow canvas, we took turns making snow angels and carrying our infant child in a front pack en route to the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden.  The Garden’s gigantic cherry had a thick layer of icing dripping from its round, red head while the tantalizing curve of the spoon scooped up all that was extra.

Spirituality

Finishing our walking tour, refreshed, we came to a standstill at the streetlights. Suddenly, the unusual and decadent void of silence was broken by a roaring European sports car with an overly preoccupied driver (on a now very antiquated portable phone) careening near us with a spray of fresh powder.  The new mother in me became indignant when the driver fishtailed dangerously close.

The new father, a biologist by training, observed with complete calm, “There must be something in our DNA that makes us want the next best atlatl.”

What drives our seemingly insatiable wanting?  This is the question to take on every outing.