A rewrite of chapter 10 of Redwood Summer, a novel of 1990 San Jose. In this chapter Jason is attempting to fix the car problem from the previous chapter, and ends up having a conversation with his father about where he’s at in life, and about what Silicon Valley was in its agricultural past.
Rewrite of chapter 9 for Redwood Summer. In this chapter Jason, the main character, and his friends Randy and Brian are driving home after seeing a movie, but what’s really happening is the growing apart of Jason and Randy. The breakdown that happens to Jason’s car is symbolic, not only of the relationship between Jason Randy, but also of the greater world changes that were happening below the surface in the summer of 1990 and were about to undermine the hard fought victory of the Cold War.
Jason leaned over the grill and radiator of his car and reached downward with a new hose. He pushed on one side of the rigid hose then the other as he tried again to slide it onto the intake nozzle of the water pump. He struggled some more in the cramped engine space and was getting frustrated, then he 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.
“So 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.”
“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.”
“Sure wish 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 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, but those old slant sixes ran forever. I’ll bet someone’s driving it around right now.”
“Maybe that’s the kind of car I need,” Jason said, “something low maintenance.”
“If only they still made them like that,” 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 put his hands back on the front of his car and looked down at the engine, and 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 cause problems,” he finally said.
“Ain’t that the truth,” Jason replied as he sensed his father’s perception. 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. “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. “It seemed like things were fine,” he said, “but now, I can’t tell if I hit a rut, or if it’s something bigger.” He pondered what to do. “Maybe I just need a break in the action, or at least from working on this thing,” he said as he indicated his car. He picked up a rag and wiped his hands as he wandered toward the front of the garage while 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.
“The age old struggle,” father declared, “man trying to figure out 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 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. “Christine’s parents talk about how they used to pick plums, prunes, apricots, walnuts around here every summer when they were kids.”
“Now those were the days,” father reminisced. “Fruit trees everywhere, more farms, more open space, 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 replied as he thought back some more. “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.”
“And that’s too bad,” father said regretfully. “No more produce stands either, have to buy everything from the grocery 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. 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.”
“You remember that place? Yeah, we had some fun times there.”
They quietly shared another memory.
“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.”
“At least in your day you could buy a house with one paycheck,” Jason pointed out. “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, 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 happily of the origin of his family, then felt concern about his future. “Maybe I was born at the wrong time,” he lamented.
“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.”
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 like mine.”
“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, some people always want the latest gadget,” father said with some exasperation. “All you have to do is keep at it, and some opportunity somewhere will come your way.”
Jason contemplated 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 thing to sink me further into debt,” Jason remarked 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 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,” 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 on the right track.”
“You’re on the right track,” father reaffirmed, “but I gotta admit it, 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,” he observed pessimistically. “Now it’s all specialized. Every man for himself.”
“At least you get to retire in a couple of years.”
“Yep, looking forward to it,” father anticipated, “then I’ll have all the time in the world.”
Jason noticed his father reflecting, and he found himself aligned with his father’s perspective. He sensed himself on the same path, but wondered where it was heading for him. “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. 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. Well the CEO says 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 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 was struck by the lesson, and it sank into his conscience. “At least work hasn’t been a problem, everything there seems to be going in the right direction.” A new thought occurred to him. “But lately, it has been starting to feel like nobody seems to know what’s going to happen next, so now everyone is trying to figure out their next move before they’re forced to look for something new. Maybe management knows, but if they do they’re not telling us a thing. 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 I figure every generation has its challenges.”
“Yeah, I suppose so.”
“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
Jason paced himself with the surrounding traffic on one of the valley freeways. Vehicles moved in sync as cars, vans, and pickups sped past semi-trailer trucks in the late afternoon sun. More vehicles entered from and exited onto merge lanes. Randy sat in the passenger seat talking while Brian was in the back seat, his head nodded back in sleep.
“So the whole day started out mellow,” Randy continued, “just me, Brian, Darren and Greg hanging out at the beach, tossing around the Frisbee, rapping with some bitches, pounding some brews, making a day of it.”
“Did you guys go to the Boardwalk?” Jason asked.
“Nah, we went to the beach that’s at the end of 26th Avenue, away from the tourists.”
“Nice and secluded over there.”
“Yeah, where the locals go. So anyways, these other guys show up, and a couple of them were also from the Valley, and one of them had an entire case of Pabst in his backpack, so we partied with them. It was awesome,” Randy said as he reminisced. “I like it down there. You can do things down there you can’t do up here.”
“Like smoking a bowl in public?”
“I’ve done that up here plenty,” Randy reminded. “So when it got dark we tried to get a fire going, but no luck. It was getting late so we finally decided to head back, and I ended up having to drive because I was the least wasted.”
“That’s unusual,” Jason kidded.
“Yeah, well no thanks to this pussy,” Randy said as he pointed back to Brian. “Anyways, I made it over the 17 in record time, and then we went to this party at Jamie’s, and the whole place was raging, an insane fucking party. It took me all of yesterday to recover.” Randy looked back toward Brian again. “I don’t know what this animal here did yesterday, but he was the life of the party.” Brian remained asleep.
“Guy I met through work.”
“You were partying and you didn’t even call me,” Jason chided. “What gives?”
“Aw man, I’m sorry,” Randy apologized. “I just figured you were busy with your family because your sister’s in town.”
“Yeah, but, you know…maybe I needed to get away.” Jason looked over at Randy appealingly, and they shared a laugh together.
“So how’s Kathy doing?”
“Doing well,” Jason answered, “living the college life.”
“Good for her, I’m really proud of her,” Randy said sincerely. “She’ll go far.”
“Yeah she will,” Jason agreed. “She’ll probably end up supporting the rest of the family,” he joked. They laughed some more in agreement and enjoyed the moment, then Jason wondered if what he said was actually going to happen.
“That was a good movie,” Randy said after a bit of silence. “But you know what would have made it better? If Clint Eastwood had starred in it.”
“I thought Sean Connery did a good job.”
“Yeah, but couldn’t you see Clint in charge of a submarine? He wouldn’t have to take any shit from anybody.”
“I don’t know,” Jason disagreed. “Clint playing a Russian just doesn’t seem right, it would be like John Wayne playing a Nazi. And could you imagine how funny he’d sound if he tried to talk like a Russian?”
“He’s Clint Eastwood, he doesn’t have to say anything,” Randy said. “All he has to do is give you that don’t-fuck-with-me look.”
Jason slowed down as he approached a reflective tanker truck. He changed lanes, sped up, and drove past it.
Randy looked over to Jason appreciatively. “Hey, thanks for covering me. I owe you.”
“No problem,” Jason said.
“Movies sure got more expensive,” Randy bemoaned.
“Tell me about it.”
“I mean, when did it go up to five bucks a ticket? You can rent a movie for half that.”
“What gets me is that they have the balls to charge you two seventy five for a cup of ice that maybe has a couple of ounces of coke,” Jason complained.
“Highway fucking robbery!” Randy fumed. “Remember when we used go to the UA, only pay a dollar, and then sneak from movie to movie?”
“Or play video games out in the lobby,” Jason added. “A whole weekend of fun with nothing but a pocketful of change.”
“The place we were just at had at least ten screens,” Randy pointed out. “We should have sneaked into another movie just to get our money’s worth.”
“I would’ve loved to, but then we’d have to drag this guy around,” Jason said and pointed back at Brian. “Plus, you know, I’ve got things to do.” He drove quickly to keep up with the rapid, weekend traffic.
“Right, family stuff,” Randy assumed. “Doesn’t your dad work on parts that go into submarines?”
“He used to,” Jason answered. “I’m not sure what they’re having him do now, but he’s going to retire pretty soon anyways.”
“Did he get to work on anything that had to do with torpedoes?”
“Maybe,” Jason said. “But he wasn’t much into talking about his job. Whenever any of us asked what he did, he would say that when he was home that was his time, and he didn’t want to spoil it by talking about work.”
“Got to agree with your dad there,” Randy said. “Work sucks.”
“Right,” Jason said doubtfully. “How’s that coming along?”
“Aw, more problems with the boss,” Randy said.
“He’s not giving me enough work. I keep telling him that I could use some more hours, but he says he doesn’t have anything for me.”
“It’s summer,” Jason pointed out, “this is the busy time of the year for landscaping.”
“Lots of competition out there,” Randy said, “at least that’s what he tells me.”
“Sounds like he’s jerking you around.”
“The guy is a prick anyhow,” Randy complained. “He’s one of those stick up his ass types who have to manage every little detail of your job, a royal pain.”
“Yeah, micro managers are the worst.”
“And he’s so into micro managing that he forgets to look for new customers.”
“Maybe you should try to bring in some business,” Jason suggested.
“Me?” Randy laughed.
“You’re an outgoing guy,” Jason said, “and you have the personality for it.”
“He needs to learn how to run his shit first. One time when we were done for the day and getting ready to leave ready, but that fucker wanted us to keep working just as it was getting get dark because he scheduled us for another job the next day. How the fuck are we supposed to work in the dark?” Randy demanded. “And if I’m going to sell anything I’d rather be selling something that puts in touch with the right kind of customers, like lingerie,” he added luridly.
“Now you’re talking.”
“Oh, you’re being serious.”
“But there’s got to be something better out there for you than that headache of a job.”
“You know what,” Randy began. “I don’t need a lot to be happy, just the essentials. Why do I got to bust my ass for?”
“Believe me, I wish I could do the same,” Jason said, “but prices keep going up. Rent, gas, food…everything.”
“You know what we should do?” Randy said excitedly as he turned toward Jason. “We should just say the hell with it and go live on a beach somewhere. We could do that. I’ve met some people that do that.”
“Yeah, they’re called bums.”
“Aw c’mon, you know it ain’t a bad idea. Who needs all that rat race bullshit anyway?”
“I can’t do that. What would Christine say?”
“Bring her along.”
“Serious?” Jason laughed.
“Why not? We used to do stuff like that all the time, remember?”
“Yeah, when we were kids,” Jason reminded. “But people grow up, and things change, and you have to change along with them.”
Randy stared at Jason. “You used to never talk like that.”
“Well, that’s life.”
Randy looked away. “You used to be fun.”
“C’mon, Randy, you know I didn’t mean anything.”
“Yeah, I know,” Randy said forlornly, “just looking out for me because I’m a fuckup.” He kept staring ahead as the pavement quickly disappeared under them. “I’ve been hearing that straighten up and fly right talk from teachers, principals, and bosses for as long as I can remember. You know I don’t sweat that stuff. Why worry about getting ahead or any of that, it’s all bullshit anyways.”
Jason noticed wisps of steam from the front of the car, then a steady vapor rose from underneath the hood and blew over the windshield. “Aw, shit.”
“Uh oh,” Randy said. “Looks like we’re going to need a ride.”
Jason decelerated, merged right, and coasted onto the shoulder of the freeway. “The last fucking thing I need,” he said with frustration. He came to a stop and turned the ignition off. The engine hissed and steam wafted from underneath the hood.
“We home yet?” Brian asked groggily from the backseat.
“No, go back to sleep,” Randy said.
Jason reached under the left side of the dashboard, pulled a handle, and the front of the hood popped up. He got out, walked to the front of the car, and carefully reached underneath the hood while trying not to burn his hand. He found the metal lever, pushed it aside and lifted the hood all the way up as it released a cloud of steam.
“Hope it’s not the water pump,” Randy said as he appeared alongside the car and looked down into the engine.
Jason noticed Randy after not seeing him at first. “Probably just a hose.” He looked down behind the radiator and saw a thin jet of steam hissing out of the thick, black hose that connected the bottom of the radiator to the lower engine block. He leaned downward to get a better look.
“Yeah, looks like a hose,” Randy said as he also leaned in closer. “At least they’re cheap to replace, could be worse.”
Brian wandered up to the front of the car. “What happened?” he asked.
“We’re going to have a picnic,” Randy joked, “right here next to the freeway.” They were all looking under the hood as vehicles sped by in a constant coming and going hum of spinning tires on pavement. The sun glared down on the arid landscape and baked the freeway asphalt, and the dry dirt and weeds alongside. Haze permeated the hot, dry air.
“I got some rags in the trunk,” Jason said. “I think I can tie it around the leak and get us to a gas station. Then I can put more water in the radiator.”
“Electrical tape would be better,” Randy said.
“Well, unless you can cough up a roll we’ll just have to make do with what we got.” Jason walked to the back of the car, opened the trunk, reached in, found a rag, and closed the trunk. He returned to the front of the car and saw Randy still peering down at the engine while Brian stood around lethargically.
“Let’s find a pay phone and call Todd or someone and get a ride,” Randy suggested. “No, we’ll call Stu. He’s got Brian’s van.”
“What’s he doing with Brian’s van,” Jason asked.
Randy looked to Brian. “Why did you let Stu borrow your van?”
“He had to move some shit,” Brian answered tiredly.
“He had to move some shit,” Randy reported to Jason.
“I’ve got ears, Randy,” Jason said.
“So I guess there’s no way to get a hold of Stu,” Randy said.
“We’ll make it home,” Jason assured. “There should be a gas station at the next exit.” He went under the hood.
“Maybe you can get a new hose there,” Randy said.
“If they have the right one.” Jason found the steam sputtering pinhole size leak on the hose and began to tie a rag around it. He tried to avoid getting grime on himself as he reached down between the radiator and engine and worked the rag into a knot. “If they don’t, I’ll probably have to get one from a dealership, and those places love to rip you off.” The rag became wet as it minimized the leak.
“For sure,” Randy agreed. “We should get into that kind of business, something a little shady.”
“Nah,” Jason said as he closed the hood, “too messy. And I don’t think Christine wants to see me with grease underneath my fingernails.” He looked over at Randy and Brian as they stood around by the car. “Thanks for the help, guys.”
“Anytime,” Randy replied. Brian crawled into the backseat and Randy got in after him into the passenger seat while Jason got into the driver’s seat. “Look, about what you were saying. I know you’re just trying to help, and I appreciate it, really.”
“It’s all right,” Jason said.
“Tell you what, since you paid my way, I should do something for you.”
“Now, I know you love Christine,” Randy said, “but maybe sometimes you get a little curious as to what you’re missing out on.”
“Thanks, but I don’t need any of your hos.”
“No, I’m talking about Brian,” Randy kidded as he pointed to the backseat. “Serious, I’m going into the pimping business, and Brian’s going to be my first ho,” he laughed.
Jason was unmoved.
“Hey, lighten up, man. No need to get all serious.”
Jason tried to remain upset, then finally relented and laughed along with Randy as he started the car.
“Hey, what are you guys talking about?” Brian asked.
“Quiet, bitch!” Randy ordered.
©2017 Robert Kirkendall