Jason leaned over the grill and radiator at the front of his car and reached downward with a new hose. He tried again to slide it onto the intake nozzle of the water pump. He struggled to fit on the rigid hose in the cramped engine space and was getting more 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.
“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, I lost my grip trying to pull off the old hose,” Jason said as he looked at a scrape on his hand.
“That’s why I heard you swear,” father kidded as he looked at the scrape. “The things we do to save a dollar.” He placed his hands on the side fender and looked down onto the engine. “They sure don’t make them like they used to,” he observed. “It used to be that you could look under the hood of a car 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. Makes me wish I still had my old ‘56 Chevy.”
“Sure wish cars were still that simple,” Jason longed. “Nowadays you can’t even do a tune up unless you’re a professional.”
“Ain’t that the way,” father agreed as he stood back up. “Now you take that old Valiant station wagon we used to own. It didn’t have all that extra shit that modern cars have,” he said as he pointed at the engine, “but those old slant sixes ran forever. I’ll bet someone’s driving it around right now.”
“Maybe I should drop one of those motors into this thing.”
“If only it was that easy,” father chuckled. “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’ll they come up with next?”
“Seems like everything gets more complicated,” Jason said as he stared down at the loose radiator hose. His earlier preoccupations came back to mind.
They stood and looked at the engine together as father leaned in a little closer. “I suppose there’s something other than car problems that’s bothering you,” he finally said.
“Oh, you know,” Jason replied, “the usual stuff.” He looked up from the car and stared outside the garage at nothing in particular.
“Let me guess,” father began, “Christine wants to get more serious, your job wants you to work more hours, and now you’re wondering where all the good times have gone.”
Jason felt somewhat unburdened. “So I’m not the only one,” he said. “I think I just need a break in the action, or at least from working on this thing,” he said as he indicated his car. He wandered toward the front of the garage and his father did the same. “Today it’s just a hose, but I don’t want this car to turn into a money pit.” They stood at the head of the driveway and looked out at the suburban neighborhood.
“It’s the age old struggle. Man trying to figure out how to make his way through the world.”
“Wish I had a head start,” Jason said half seriously.
“You know,” father began as they leaned back against the trunk of the car, “when your mother and I moved into this house, there was a cherry orchard right there.” He pointed down the street at a block of tract houses silhouetted against the setting sun.
“I think I remember that.”
“Remember what they looked like when they were in bloom? Like big, pink cotton candy trees.”
“Christine’s parents talk about how they used to pick plums, prunes, apricots around here every summer when they were kids.”
“Those were the days,” father reminisced. “Fruit trees everywhere, more farms, less crowded, no traffic jams, slower pace of life. Now it’s all expressways, strip malls, tract houses, two story office buildings. They’ll probably build on or pave over every square inch of this valley.”
“Sure seems like it.” Jason thought of all the changes that happened in the Valley. “I remember when I was little and we’d drive by an orchard, and I’d look down all the rows of fruit trees, one after another, sometimes we’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.”
“That’s too bad,” father said regretfully. “No more produce 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 tilt-ups and business parks that cover as much land as possible, makes no sense at all. Bad planning. I mean, who thinks up with all this?”
“Someone looking to make a quick turnaround?”
Father laughed some more. “Now you’re learning.”
“When you look around now,” Jason said, “it’s hard to believe there was a time when this wasn’t the Silicon Valley.”
“Yeah, the old Valley of Heart’s Delight. Those days sure aren’t coming back,” father lamented. “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.”
“At least in your day you could buy a house with one paycheck,” Jason said. “I don’t know anyone who can do that anymore.”
“True,” father admitted. “It was a boomtown when I first got here, houses were cheap, the
weather was nice, 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.”
“Maybe I was born at the wrong time,” Jason sulked.
“No, I wouldn’t say that,” father corrected. “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.”
A new thought came to Jason. “You know, with all the changes happening everywhere, it seems like that’s going to affect business here in the Valley, especially defense jobs, like mine.”
“Technology will always be in demand, it’s human nature, ever since man figured out how to use tools. And another thing about technology is that it’s always being improved, so there’s always going to be opportunities somewhere. Something will come along your way. I was just lucky enough to move here at the right time, that’s all.”
Jason pondered the timing of his situation. “It’s funny, you know. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong. I’m not some screw up, but I’m also not sure I’m doing the right thing either. 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 when it’s too late.”
“You’re not doing anything wrong,” father assured, “it’s just the 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. You’re generation just happened to be caught in the middle of it. But things will work themselves out, they always do.”
“Don’t want this thing to sink me further into debt,” Jason said as he glanced back at his car.
“When I was your age you could by a running car for fifty bucks. Talk about inflation.”
“At least I’ll be out of the red pretty soon, then I can move back out of the house.”
“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,” he said as he clapped Jason on the shoulder reassuringly.
“Yeah, things aren’t so bad,” Jason tried to convince himself. “Now if I could just get started.”
“You’re on the right track,” father reaffirmed, “but I gotta admit it used to be easier to get
started here. 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. That kind of security is sure hard to find these days. Now it’s all specialized. Every man for himself.”
“At least you get to retire pretty soon.”
“Looking forward to it, then I’ll have all the time in the world,” father anticipated.
Jason sensed his father reflecting, and he found himself seeing life through his father’s perspective in a new way. “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 conflict is over. Do you really think it’s going to be like that, no more history?”
Father leaned back some more 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 replan their strategy for the post Cold War era or something like that. Anyways, 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. The CEO then says that they will be in the business of making the one thing they have always been in the business of making, money.” Father laughed to himself. “As long as there is a dollar to be made someone is going to make it, and that’ll always drive things.”
Jason let the irony sink in. “At least work hasn’t been a problem, but you know what it feels
like right now at work? Nobody seems to know what’s going on or what’s going to happen next, so now everyone is trying to figure out their next move before they’re forced to. Maybe management knows, but if they do they’re not telling us a thing. 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 I figure every generation has its challenges. 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 need it all, because maybe having it all is more trouble than it’s worth. You know, I sometimes 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 began, “since I’m the oldest, I get to inherit the house, right?”
“Hey! I’m not dead yet.”
©2017 Robert Kirkendall