All the important life events of the previous six months finished running through Jason’s mind as he continued staring out the passenger door window of a work truck, and the parties, family gatherings, career change, leaving of school, ordeals, dispersal of friends, and other separate happenings combined together and took their place in his past history. He regained awareness of his surroundings as the truck drove past nondescript Silicon Valley business parks, then looked to the distant southern mountain range. He remembered a time when he and his friends drove up to its summit, hiked into a park of enormous rocks and boulders, and looked down across the entire lit up Santa Clara Valley at night. He peered at the unchanging evergreen landscape and tried to find the spot where they went, but the truck turned a corner and he lost sight of it.
“I tell you, Jason, your uncle’s a good guy,” Hal said from the driver’s seat as they drove by a long row of concrete tilt-ups and parking lots. “He lets me work for him when I’m not making enough at my own business. Things are kind of dicey right now, but it should pick up soon.” He looked over at Jason. “You know, times like this are good for the economy,” he said shadily.
The cab became silent, then Jason figured Hal was waiting for a response. “Yeah, I’m sure it will,” he answered reflexively. “And Uncle Ray is a real good guy, saved me from a dead end job.”
“Salt of the earth,” Hal proclaimed. “Ought to be more like him.”
“Yeah, there should,” Jason responded as he recalled how welcoming Uncle Ray was when he approached him for a job. Like he was expecting me, Jason thought to himself.
“You see, what we’re doing here is solid,” Hal boasted. “Businesses come and go, some get bought out, some go out of business, others move overseas, but there’s always going to be a need for getting things built.”
“Yep, job security,” Jason said absently.
“You got that right,” Hal reiterated. “All the engineers and programmers and computer nerds around here, they spend their whole day in front of computer screens, never go outside, probably never get laid. Think any of them can do what we do?”
“Maybe not,” Jason replied, “but they’re the ones who come up with the ideas that keep
everything going. So what if they don’t know how to swing a hammer, they don’t need to.”
“But you can’t run a business outdoors, or this nation for that matter. Doesn’t matter if it’s the president of the United States or the president of Apple, someone has to build their base of operations, and that’s where we come in.” Hal looked around the expanse. “Sure, this place gets more crowded every year, I remember how it used to be, but that’s what keeps us in business.”
“Yep,” Jason said, “until we run out of land.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that,” Hal reassured. “There’s still enough open space to keep us busy for a long time. I did hear that the Sierra Club types are trying to get a greenbelt around the valley, but I doubt that’ll ever happen. Construction creates jobs,” he pointed out. “Plus you got all those older buildings that need to be demolished and replaced, like what they’re doing in downtown right now. And the great thing about redevelopment is that it doesn’t need any new real estate.” He leaned back in satisfaction. “The future is looking bright.”
“Nothing but blue skies,” Jason said ironically as he considered the never ending flow of time and its complete indifference to the changes in his own life.
“You know what,” Hal began, “we supply one of life’s necessities, which gives us a chance to make a decent living in the greatest country on earth. That’s something to be thankful for.”
“Well I’m thankful to be working outdoors instead of living outdoors.”
“That’s right, got to count your blessings.”
Over the radio a news talk show was discussing a pending United States military deployment to the Mideast.
“Now you take that situation between Iraq and Kuwait,” Hal went on, “all the bleeding hearts are saying we should avoid war, but what choice do we have? That’s a key strategic part of the world.”
Jason listened to the discussion on the radio. He thought some of the people talking sounded overly enthusiastic for war and were ignoring the risks. “I don’t know,” he countered. “You think they’re telling us everything?”
“Of course they’re not telling us everything,” Hal said. “They can’t give away their strategy to the enemy.”
“I get that, but the way they’re talking about what’s going on over there, it just sounds too neat, like something is being left out.”
“Seems pretty straight forward to me. Besides, we’ve got the biggest and best military on earth. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“Probably nothing,” Jason said, “but it’s a war happening on the other side of the world. What does it have to do with us?”
“All part of the big picture.”
Hal sped through a yellow light just as it turned red. “Now that we’re the last superpower standing and king of the mountain, we have to make sure that no one knocks us off our throne.”
“Who, the Russians? I thought we were friends with them now.”
“All the more reason to strike now, they won’t get in the way.”
“But it seems like there’s still time to work something out.”
“Well, you have to look at this way,” Hal advised. “If all we do is talk, which is basically doing nothing, greater problems may happen. Problems that can affect our security,” he added importantly.
“But if we rush into this it could cost some lives.”
“Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.” Hal maintained. “I take it you don’t like what’s happening right now?”
“I just think before we get too deep into this we first need know what’s going on over there,” Jason cautioned.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Hal said authoritatively. “Now I’m sure you know that there’s a very important resource in that part of the world, one that fuels industry, the economy, pretty much all of civilization, and we got to have a foothold there if we want to get our share. It’s all a matter of survival.”
“What about the people already living there?”
Hal laughed. “What about them?”
“I’m just wondering how they’re going to react if we step in.”
“If they’re smart they’ll welcome us as liberators.”
“But what if they don’t?”
“You need to keep in mind that our way of life depends on access to raw materials,” Hal emphasized, “so we need a strong presence where they are or we’ll turn into a third world nation. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”
Jason thought some more. “So that’s what this is all about?”
“Well, it’s always been that way.”
“I thought we stood for something.”
“We do,” Hal insisted. “But sometimes you have to tell little white lies to keep the masses on board, especially when it’s time to go to a hot spot, take charge, straighten the whole mess out, put everyone back in their place, and restore order. That’s how things get done.”
Jason looked down an avenue they were crossing and in the distance saw the building where his last job was. “Since when?”
“Okay, I see what you’re getting at. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, that’s the American way, but when the shit goes down and the battle lines are drawn, you don’t want to be caught on the wrong side.”
“I’d still like to know more about the other side.”
Hal let out a breath of frustration. “Look, the people over there that you’re so worried about are nothing but a bunch of sand niggers who’ve been killing each other for centuries, probably always will be, and we can’t be letting them dictate how the world is run.” They stopped at an intersection, and Hal looked over at Jason. “See what I’m saying?”
Jason listened closer to the talking on the radio. The debating voices were becoming more heated and strident as they rose in anger. The verbal clash continued, mired into a loud exchange, and he was alarmed by the hysteria. He then sensed Hal still waiting for an answer, and he felt the push of coercion.
“You know,” Jason began, “I may not be the smartest guy around or know as much as those people arguing on the radio, and I admit I don’t pay as much attention as I should,” he looked up, “but I will be now. And when I find out what’s happening over there and get a better idea of what’s going on then I’ll decide what my opinions will be,” he declared. “And I don’t need a bunch of loudmouths telling me what to think!” he added with emphasis, then settled back into his seat. He was surprised by his righteousness, and was suddenly aware of the burden he’d been carrying around as it fell away. “Yeah,” he said partly to himself, “I’d fight for that.”
Hal appeared to want to respond, but the light turned green and he drove on.
Jason then remembered his plans for the upcoming weekend with Christine, a get together with a couple of old friends and some people from their new neighborhood, and smiled contently. Something to look forward to, he thought.
©2018 Robert Kirkendall