The parties, family gatherings, career change, leaving of school, ordeals, dispersal of friends to their separate lives, and all the other life events of the past year ran through Jason’s mind as he continued to look out the passenger side window from a work truck. He gazed at the southern mountain range in the distance and another memory came to mind. He thought back to a time when he and his friends drove up to the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains, hiked into a park of enormous rocks, and looked down across the entire valley. He peered at the fir covered mountains 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 as he sped past a long row of business parks and concrete tilt-ups. “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 at Jason with a knowing smile. “Times like this are good for the economy.”
The cab became silent, then Jason figured Hal was waiting for a response. “Yeah, I’m sure it will,” he answered reflexively. “Uncle Ray is a 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 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 agreed heartily. “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 tree hugger types are trying to get a greenbelt around the valley, but I doubt that’ll ever happen. Construction creates jobs,” he asserted. “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.”
“And on it goes,” Jason said partly to himself. He contemplated the eternally onward flow of time and its seeming 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.” 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,” he went on, “all the bleeding hearts say we should avoid war, but what choice do we have? That is a key strategic part of the world.”
Jason listened to the discussion on the radio, and thought some of the people talking sounded alarmist and more enthusiastic for war than they needed to be. “I don’t know,” he countered. “You think they’re telling us everything?”
“Of course they’re not telling us everything,” Hal replied. “They can’t give away their strategy to the enemy.”
“I get that, but the way they’re talking about it, it just sounds too neat, like something is being left out.”
“Seems pretty straight forward to me, and besides, we’ve got the biggest and best military on earth. What’s the worse that can happen?”
“What does a war on the other side of the world have to do with us?”
“Strategy, my friend,” Hal reminded.
Jason pondered. “For what?”
“Now that we’re the last superpower standing we have to make sure we have continued access to world resources before someone else gets to them.”
“I thought we were friends with the Russians now.”
“All the more reason to strike, they won’t get in the way.”
“But it seems like there’s still time to work it out.”
“Well, you have to look at the big picture,” 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 ominously.
“It’ll still cost some lives.”
“Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.” Hal maintained. “You don’t like what’s happening right now?”
“I just don’t think we should be rushing into anything until we 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, a resource 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. “Are you serious? You’ve got to look at the big picture, my friend, see what’s really going on.”
Jason looked toward Hal. “Which is?”
Hal leaned toward Jason. “Which is that there ain’t nothing there but a bunch of sand niggers who’ve been killing each other for centuries, and now it’s up to us to go in there, straighten the whole mess out, set everything right, and put everyone back in their place. It’s what we do.”
Jason looked down an avenue they were crossing and in the distance saw the building where his last job was. “Since when?”
“Okay,” Hal said, “all kidding aside. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, that’s the
American way, but when the shit goes down, you don’t want to be caught on the wrong side.” They drove along further. “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 and mired into a loud exchange, and he was taken aback 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 sure as hell don’t know everything that’s happening over there. But once I do have a better idea, it’ll be my decision to believe in what I want, when I want, and how I want…and no one can tell me different!” he insisted. He was surprised by the righteousness of his declaration, and suddenly became aware of the burden he’d been carrying for a long time as it fell away. “Yeah,” he said partly to himself, “I’d fight for that.”
Hal appeared to want to respond, but shrugged and drove on. Jason then remembered his plans for the upcoming weekend with Christine and some friends, as well as some people from their new neighborhood. Something to look forward to, he thought happily.
©2018 Robert Kirkendall