Reflections V: Summer Vacation–Over-heated


fter we left Las Vegas–remember, Zettonv, this is 1965–we continued on our journey and spent the night in a small town called St. George, Utah. We had made a few stops, but mostly just to stretch our legs. Basically, we were on the road all day, except for that lunch break in Vegas.

The motel was uneventful. Two adults and three kids–9, 8, 3–all crowded into a two bed motel room. Again, before the crack of dawn, around 4 AM in the morning, our parents rousted us out of bed and we sleepily piled into the back seat once more. A few hours later, we stopped at a roadside diner and I tasted my very first diner hash brown potatoes. It was brown and crispy on the outside and soft and incredibly oily on the inside. A million questions were running through my head. Are these potatoes? Why have I never eaten them before? Why are they so crunchy? Did God himself come up with this recipe? Man, I thought I had never tasted anything so good. Clubhouse sandwich yesterday, hash browns this morning, this could be a very good trip, I thought.

I made another discovery in the diner’s parking lot. Wedged in the grill of our Rambler was a bright red bug I had never seen before.

“Mom, what’s that?” I asked.

“A dragon fly.”

“Oooooo.” I reached for it. I wanted to dislodge it and inspect it, take a closer look–I was stupid back then. But mother held me back. It’s dead and you shouldn’t play with the dead. She pulled it out and gently placed it at the edge of the diner. (She would later tell me of our great grandfather–a devout Buddhist who would never even kill a mosquito sucking blood out of him, but that’s another story.) In the back seat of the car, we kids again fell asleep, but my sleep was rather light as I soon woke up in the shadows of strange rock formations. I figured out later that we had passed through Bryce Canyon National Park and that we had made a detour to see it, but we did not stop. Just driving through. I don’t remember if my siblings were awake, but I do remember these weird formations hovering over us as we passed through. We soon returned on our northerly direction and I fell asleep again.

* * * *

Hot, hot, hot. I think it was about 9 or 10 in the morning and the car was stopped on the side of the road amidst some farmland.

“Where’s dad?” we asked.

“Getting water, ” mom said. Apparently our Rambler had over-heated and our father took the gallon water jug and went to the nearest farmhouse to get some water. When he came back, I got out of the car to see what was what, and watched him with towel in hand carefully twist the radiator cap.

“Step back,” mom warned.

The engine had cooled off a bit, but still the steam hissed dangerously as my father slowly removed the cap. He poured the water in it, looked inside and went back to the farmhouse. We needed more water. After a second serving, father was satisfied and we were again on our way. But after another 45 minutes or so, a car passed by on our left and was pointing toward the bottom of our car. The kids in the other car were screaming, Smoke! My dad pulled over and realized that the engine was over heating again. Soon he was on another trek in search of water. We kids waited impatiently–or perhaps I should say I was impatient. Eager to throw a tantrum, I began complaining about the early morning starts. Of course, it didn’t matter to me at the time that I could sleep in the car as my father did all the driving. But being the spoiled brat that I was, I still found it unacceptable to wake up so early in the morning to begin our journeys. Well, as I voiced my dissatisfaction, mom just pointed to the engine. I wasn’t sure what she meant then, but years later, I figured out that we were leaving early in the morning to avoid having the car overheat. If we drove in the desert morning when it was still very cold–even in the summer–the car could last a bit longer without having a cow.

Anyway, it was August and it was hot. Really hot. After noon, we made another stop. What? Again? I thought, but we had stopped at the house of a family my father knew–I had no idea there was a “scheduled” stop on our itinerary. He introduced us to a Japanese lady he seemed to know quite well. I believe her name was Shizuko, and she was his niece, which would make us her cousins. They lived in Utah, but I had no idea who they were. I could barely keep track of our extended family in LA, let alone in some distant state. We ate lunch there and were treated to watermelon for desert. But I must confess, despite having been dragged along by my father to a myriad of different homes for poetry or social clubs, I still felt uncomfortable in the house of a stranger and wanted to hurry on our journey. After two o’clock, when the sun traversed a bit to the west and the air felt just a shade cooler, we again hit the road and headed toward Salt Lake City

For the umpteenth time
to sweaty kids in the back
“No, we’re not there yet.”
Through a dusty chipped windshield,
not a gas station in sight

This particular poem is mine. It is not a senryu, although the content would suggest it was such. I wrote it for a poetry contest in my literature class two years ago when we had a mock Uta-awase (poetry match) in the fashion of those from the Heian period. I imagined this very trip when I wrote it.

To be cont’d