Redwood Summer Chapter 10

Jason stood under the of his car and leaned over the front grill. He peered down at the narrow space between the radiator and motor and tried to figure out the best way to install the new radiator hose. He slid the hose downward into the narrow space and around the fan belt. He fitted one end onto the intake nozzle of the water pump and tried to push on the rigid hose. The hose barely moved, then he tried to wriggle it onto the nozzle. He struggled some more in the cramped engine space and was becoming frustrated. He then heard the door from the house to the garage open and close. He looked up from under the hood, saw his father, and felt some relief from his irritation.

“How’s it going?” father asked.

“Oh, just trying to wrestle on this new hose.” Jason pulled himself up from underneath the hood. “A little tough to get to though, everything is jammed in so tight. And I lost my grip trying to pull off the old hose,” Jason said as he looked at a scrape on his hand.

“Ouch! So that’s why I heard you swear,” father kidded as he looked at the scrape. “The things we do to save a dollar.”

“That’s what I get for trying to do it myself.”

“The powers that be don’t want people to be too self reliant,” father explained, “no money in that.” He placed his hands on the side fender and looked down onto the engine. “They sure don’t make them like they used to.”

“I’ll say,” Jason said as he looked down at the loose hose.

“It used to be that you could look under the hood and all you saw was the motor, the radiator, and the battery, and you could fix just about anything with a wrench and a couple of screwdrivers,” father said nostalgically. “Makes me wish I still had my old ‘56 Chevy. I did all the work on that car by myself or with one of my buddies.”

“Sure wish today’s cars were still that simple,” Jason longed. “Nowadays you can’t even do a tune up unless you’re Mr. Goodwrench.”

“That’s progress for ya,” father commented. “Now you take that old Valiant station wagon we used to own,” he said as he stood back up. “It didn’t have all that extra shit that modern cars have, but those old slant sixes ran forever. I’ll bet someone’s driving it around right now.”

“Maybe that’s what I need,” Jason said, “something low maintenance.”

“There is something to be said for simplicity,” father remarked. “Cars these days, with all the fuel injection, air conditioning, catalytic converters, belts, hoses, wires going everywhere. And now all the cars with the front wheel drive that make everything under the hood sideways, can’t even see the ground underneath anymore. What will they come up with next?”

“Seems like everything gets more complicated,” Jason said as he put his hands back on the front of his car and looked down at the engine. His earlier preoccupations came back to mind.

They stood and looked at the engine together as father moved in a little closer. “Of course cars aren’t the only things that can have problems,” he finally said.

“Ain’t that the truth,” Jason replied as he sensed his father’s looming concern. He looked up from the car. “Well it seemed like everything was going along fine, but now…” He stared outside the garage at nothing in particular. “I don’t know. Probably just going through the usual stuff.”

“Let me guess,” father began, “Christine wants to get more serious, your job needs to pay you better, school is getting more expensive, and now you’re wondering where all the good times have gone.”

Jason felt somewhat unburdened. “I can’t tell if I hit a rut, made a wrong turn somewhere, or if it’s something bigger, but something is feeling off.”

“Well you may not be exactly where you want to be, but you’re not blowing it.”

“I’m sure you would’ve told me if I was.”

“I would’ve said something.”

They shared a laugh.

“I probably just need a break from working on this thing,” he said as he nodded toward his car. He picked up a rag and wiped his hands as he wandered toward the front of the garage. Father walked along the other side of the car, and they both leaned back against the trunk. They looked out across the front yard and the suburban neighborhood.

“Today it’s just a hose,” Jason said, “but I don’t want this car to turn into a money pit.”

“The age old struggle,” father noted, “trying to stay out of the red.”

“Maybe I should play the lottery,” Jason said half seriously.

“You know,” father began, “when your mother and I moved into this house, there was a cherry orchard right over there.” He pointed down the street at a block of tract houses silhouetted against the setting sun.

Jason searched his earliest memories. “Yeah, I think I remember that.”

“Remember what they looked like when they were in bloom? Like big, pink cotton candy trees.”

Jason hazily recollected the grove of cherry trees from the time when he first became aware of the world around him. “Christine’s parents talk about how they used to pick plums, prunes, apricots, walnuts all over the valley every summer when they were kids. Some of her family used to work at Del Monte.”

“They used to employ a lot of people, back when there were fruit trees everywhere, more farms, more open space, no traffic jams, and a slower pace of life. Those were the days,” father reminisced. “Now it’s all expressways, strip malls, and tract houses. They’ll probably build on or pave over every square inch of this valley.”

“Sure seems like it,” Jason said as he thought back some more. “I remember when I was little and we’d drive by an orchard, and I’d always look down the rows of fruit trees, one after another, sometimes I’d count them,” he recalled as he got caught up in the same nostalgia. “Doesn’t seem to be hardly any of them left anymore.”

“And that’s too bad,” father said regretfully. “No more fruit and vegetable stands either, have to buy everything from the store. You know, this is some of the best soil on earth, and all they do is keep building all over it. And they never build up, it’s always one and two story business parks that cover as much land as possible, makes no sense at all. I mean, who comes up with all this bad planning?”

“Someone looking to make a quick turnaround?”

“Now you’re learning,” father said with a laugh. “See, a lot of it is timing, and I was lucky enough to show up here at the right time, that’s all. And now the frontier is closed.”

“Yep, just like Frontier Village.”

“Yeah, we had some fun times there.”

“We sure did,” Jason remembered happily. “I think it’s all condos now.”   

“And so it goes,” father said and they quietly shared some memories.

“When you look around now,” Jason finally said, “it’s hard to believe there was a time when this wasn’t the Silicon Valley.”

“Seems that way, and those days sure aren’t coming back,” father said wistfully. “Price of land is too high and it keeps getting higher, only the high tech industry can afford it now. There just isn’t enough money in agriculture anymore.” He folded his arms as he looked out across the neighborhood. “That’s the thing about real estate, they’re not making any more of it.”

“It sure would be nice to live in a time when you could buy a house with only one paycheck,” Jason wished. “I don’t know anyone who can do that anymore.”

“And that just isn’t fair,” father said. “It was a boom town when I first got here, houses were cheap, the weather was nice, and the skills I learned in the service helped me get a decent, secure job. And once I met your mom, I knew I was staying.”

Jason thought proudly of the origin of his family and where he came from. At least I have that, he thought. He then became uncertain about his future. “Maybe I was born at the wrong time,” he lamented.

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” father countered. “There are a lot of positive changes happening right now. This is a good time to be alive, even if it has gotten too expensive.”

Jason looked to where the cherry orchard used to be, and tried to imagine how the neighborhood used to look. “You know, with all the changes happening all over the world, I’m wondering how that’s going to affect business here in the valley, especially defense jobs.”

“Technology will always be in demand. It’s just human nature, ever since man figured out how to make tools, and the thing about technology is that someone is always trying to improve it. And of course there are the people who always have to have the latest gadget,” father said with some exasperation. “Point is, if you keep at it and don’t get discouraged, some opportunity somewhere will come your way.”

Jason thought about his current situation. “You know what it feels like right now? Now I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong, I know I’m not a total screw up, but I’m also not sure if I’m doing the right thing either. It’s like I keep wondering if there’s some next big thing that I’m missing out on, because if there is, I don’t want to find out about it when it’s too late.”

“You’re not doing anything wrong,” father assured. “It’s just a decade and a half of inflation, that’s all. The rising tide that was supposed to lift all boats also lifted up the cost of living, so now demand and supply are out of whack. Your generation just happened to be caught in the middle of it, but things will work themselves out. They always do.”

“Certainly don’t want this to sink me further into debt,” Jason remarked as he glanced back at his car.

“You know, when I was your age, you could by a used running car for fifty bucks. Talk about inflation.”

“At least I’ll be out of debt pretty soon, then I can move out and get back on my own again.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” father said. “You were just living it up and ran into a little trouble, you’re taking care of it.” 

“Yeah, things aren’t so bad,” Jason tried to convince himself. “Now if I could just get on the right track.”

“You’re on the right track,” father reaffirmed, “it’s just that everything changed for your generation. Time was you could walk into any place, they’d hire you, train you, pay you a decent wage, and you had a career that allowed you to buy a house and raise a family. Now it’s all specialized. Every man for himself,” he observed with sudden pessimism.

“At least you get to retire in a couple of years.”

Father looked back up. “Yes, looking forward to that. Then I’ll have all the time in the world.”

Jason looked over at his father and noticed that he was looking ahead in deep reflection. He looked in the same direction and found himself on the same path as his father, but sensed it would not lead to the same destination. “You know, I hear some people are saying that we may be at the end of history because history is all about conflict, and now the last big world conflict is over, there will be no more history, or at least history as we know it. Do you think it’s really going to be like that?”

Father leaned back as he appeared to recall a new memory. “You know, I was just talking to one of my friends in the aerospace industry. He was telling me about this big meeting his company just had. Everybody was there, board of directors, main stockholders, upper management, all these East Coast types, and they were all trying to re-plan their strategy for the post Cold War era or something like that. Anyway, the CEO gives some big speech about how they’re going to change the focus of the company to meet the challenges of the new world politics. One of the lifers with the company asked what that meant exactly since their whole business was about was making aerospace equipment for the defense of the country. Well the CEO said to him that they will be in the business of making the one thing they have always been in the business of making, money.” Father laughed as if he just told the punchline of a joke. “Everything comes down to that, and for some people it’s the only thing that matters in their lives.”

Jason was amused, then the point of the story got him thinking. “Everything at my job seems to be going in the right direction, at least that isn’t a problem.” He thought some more about recent happenings at his job. “But I have noticed something lately, it feels like nobody seems to know what’s going to happen next. At first I thought it had to do with the end of the Cold War, but maybe there’s more to it, because now some are even trying to figure out their next move before they’re forced to look for something new. Maybe management knows something, but if they do they’re sure not telling us.” He looked downward. “Now I’m starting to wonder how stable my job is.”

“Yeah, they sure do like to keep everybody in the dark.”

“Kind of a raw deal.”

“No, it isn’t very fair,” father agreed, “but it doesn’t hurt to have a plan B.”

“I was hoping I wouldn’t need one.”

“Well if things straighten out at your job, you’re good. And if not, something better will come along,” father said optimistically. “You see, when you’re young you want it all, and you have all the energy and optimism of youth to take on the whole world. Then one day you realize you can’t have it all, and that you don’t even need it all. There’s only so much to go around anyhow.”

“Hope there’s enough left for me.”

“You’ll get your due,” father assured. “You know, sometimes I miss the days when I was younger and could travel lighter, definitely had fewer worries.” He surveyed the front yard. “At least we have our homestead.”

“So,” Jason said, “since I’m the oldest, I get to inherit the house, right?”

“Hey, I’m not dead yet.”

©2017 Robert Kirkendall

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