© 2020 by Vernon Miles Kerr, vernonmileskerr.com, writersclass.net
Loved those lyrics, “…don’t know whatcha got till it’s gone,”
That’s the upside of Coronavirus— if there is one.
For a California road-warrior, lockdown is hell.
I’ve worn out tons of tires
(In leaner times even down to the cords and belts)
Pursuing work, and far-flung friends and kin,
All the way up and down
This lion’s share hunk-of-the-Left Coast.
Whether trips perforce or trips per pleasure,
I’ve grown to crave the whir and whine
Of tire-tread on California pavement —
San Ysidro to Crescent City — all 862 miles of 101,
Along with thousands of klicks, spent meandering
The branches and twigs of side-roads, East and West:
The spiny desserts, the never snowless Sierra,
The little ramshackle towns of the Mother Lode,
With the smell of old redwood, kerosene
And rusty mining tools
Still drifting out of the basements.
California, how do I love thee?
Let me count the ways:
It’s the summoning fog bank, peeking over brittle-dry Altamont crest
As we cross up and out of blazing-Valley-Summer
And down into perpetual-Coastal-Spring.
It’s the great leap of Hiway 99 across 400 miles of Prairie,
Red Bluff-on-the-Sacramento to Bakersfield-on-the-Kern,
Gracefully arcing through crazy-quilt fields of green
Bordered by palms of North Africa and Blue Gums of Australia,
(Just two more immigrants from elsewhere — like the rest of us)
Okay, Interstate 5 is the quick way to go SF-to-LA,
Shooting uninterrupted, as it does,
Boringly straight, along a quarter-thousand miles
Of rolling, truck-rumbling, monotonous, cattle range …
But 99 is — and has always been — California’s Main Street,
Giving glimpses of towns set up by the railroad in the 1880s:
The M-towns: Madera, Merced, Modesto and Manteca (Lumber, Mercy, Modesty, and Lard.)
Spanish names were the rage in those days,
But with little thought toward meaning:
If it sounds Spanish, name it!
Then comes the Big Ag town, Fresno,
With it’s surprising sky-scraping once-bank-buildings
Built by figs and wine grapes,
And bent-over Okies and Mexican folk —
Towers sprung up to deal out Big Ag loans,
Now largely vacant.
Then, ultimately, Bakersfield!
Stopping place of Dust Bowl refugees,
Once, endless cotton and watermelon fields,
Punctuated by pumping oil wells,
Now, endless wine vinyards and almond orchards,
Punctuated by pumping oil wells.
In my daydream, the pavement gently winds
Through 1949 Bakersfield,
I savor memories of that six year-old California advent:
Pump jacks nod, the aroma of crude oil wafts through the window,
Swamp coolers drone, a distant child shouts to another,
A screen door slams.
I envision those Sunday drives, outside Shafter,
Looking out the side window through the summer shimmer
As rows of watermelons, like long legs, stride by outside.
Back to reality, I read the Tweets of sequestration-frustration —
I Add a few of my own,
While yearning for the murmur of rubber on asphalt.