Charlie’s Last Stand pt.8

Zane was traveling eastbound on Interstate 40. The job for today was to deliver steel, and he needed a trailer for that. He was on his way to Dad’s house where Quentin resided as his primary caregiver. The somber task of hospice nurse fell squarely upon his shoulders. The Truck was geared for maximum pulling power and it was unable to achieve high speeds without being crowded. Because of this, Zane kept the pace at a steady 65 mph. The Truck was loping along at a medium trot as Zane’s mind drifted back towards his youth. The miles drifted by, and Zane slipped Into an altered state as his cognitive mind yielded to another forgotten memory. He was being slowly hypnotized by the music generated by the ten-ply tires. The vibrations trickled up from the asphalt and a cosmic frequency resonated within the confines of his curious mind. Zane was beyond the point of daydreaming, and he had succumb to a mild trance! His subconscious mind and muscle memory were obliged to take the wheel! His awareness was transfixed upon a time when he purchased his first pick-up at a random farm auction in Kansas.

As it turns out, the mystical prodigy was the winning bidder of a well maintained 1970 C-10! The half-ton Chevy was the color of metallic root-beer and was nicely accented with a frosty white cab! The brilliant memory had captivated his attention and he mindlessly traveled back in time. He was reliving the event as if he were actually there. He could smell the distinct aroma of the freshly cut alfalfa, and he sensed the presence of a large festive crowd! Because it was a farm auction, a various array of loose items were strategically placed upon the flat surfaces of tractor-pulled hay wagons. Alternately, the heavy equipment was pre-arranged in long rows in a freshly manicured pasture. The auctioneer conducted his business from a semi-permanent platform installed into the bed of a brand-new F-150 which served as a mobile auction block. An anonymous driver would ease the pick-up down the line as the auction progressed. Meanwhile, a dutiful clerk would ride shotgun armed with a clipboard in hand.

Bidding at auction is a risky venture when it comes to machinery. You can kick the tires and peek under the hood, but you won’t hear the engine until she hits the auction block. There were no refunds! It was printed in plain English on the the reverse side of the buyer’s assigned bidder number. The auctioneer sang out “Whatcha See is what you get boys, You buy it like it like you see it!” Despite the warning Zane kept on bidding until the deed was done!

The farm sale wrapped up in the late afternoon and it was time for Zane to settle-up. Like a real man, he proudly strolled up to the cashier with his cash in hand. He produced three Hundred Dollar bills, along with 15 Twenties. In exchange, the cashier handed over the clear title.  He was fourteen years old, and he owned his first vehicle outright! He was living the American dream, and he was on top of the world! Having said that, an insipid voice of nagging doubt persisted which suggested the truck may be a lemon! “What if the truck turns out to be a dud,” Zane asked himself? He heard the engine running as it passed through the auction block, and he knew it was hitting on all eight cylinders with no visible smoke; but he had no idea if the transmission was rotten or if the suspension was shot?  One constant variable in the equation was that Zane was broke! He only had Fifty Dollars left to his name and it would all go towards coffee and gas! He was all in as they say in the poker dens. Although Zane was moderately proficient at driving, it would be another year-and-a-half before he could do it legally. The Shimeks had damn little respect for the law however, and Charlie suggested that Zane drive his truck home by himself! It was more than just a suggestion; it was simply a matter of logistics. It was to be Zane’s first solo road trip, and he was 550 miles from home. “You’ll be alright son,” Charlie said. “Just follow along behind me and don’t go speeding.”

The trucks were loaded, and the summer sun was lingering. It was Zane’s moment of truth! For the first time, he slid behind the wheel of his truck while Charlie closed the door behind him. “I want you to adjust the seat son,” he commanded with an elusive fatherly eloquence! Upon doing so Zane was instructed to start the engine. Charlie knew his son had gotten a good truck for a steal, and he stifled a smile when he noticed the nervous look in Zane’s eyes! It was an older truck, and the ignition switch was located at the lower right portion of the dashboard, just below the instrument cluster. Because of this Zane had to turn his attention away from his father and towards the task at hand. “You might have to pump it son, we don’t know if the choke works!” Charlie suspected the choke worked just fine, but he couldn’t resist teasing his number-one-son. Zane obeyed his father and pushed the accelerator pedal to the floor and then promptly released it in order to prime the manifold. “Please Start?” Zane said under his breath as Charlie looked on from the passenger side window. “Please Start,” He silently repeated as he twisted the key. The pretty brown Chevy with the white cab turned over with ease. “Give ‘er a little GAS Son!” Charlie barked the order as if he were a commanding General, and Zane immediately obeyed. Charlie briskly made the few paces towards the rear of the vehicle in order to inspect the exhaust. Zane nervously watched his dad through the rear-view mirror as he gingerly gunned the engine. He revved the engine up and down while listening for rattling valve lifters and sloppy rod bearings. “I don’t see any smoke Son,” Charlie hollered with the pride of a man who knew a bargain when he saw one! To Zane’s huge relief he didn’t hear any rattles or knocks. The oil pressure gauge indicated a steady 40 psi, and the temperature indicator was still seated on the ‘cold’ peg. All the while the voltmeter suggested the system was charging. At this time, Zane’s attention was directed back to his father who shouted, “Hit the Brakes Son!” He obliged and Charlie acknowledged that the brake lights came on. “Now Hit the blinkers,” he hollered with the joyful enthusiasm of a court jester! Zane alternated between the left and right turn signals, and then he tested the four-way hazard lights. “Now try the taillights,” Charlie roared! Dad was being close lipped about the test results, but Zane reasoned that no news was good news. By now Charlie had made his way towards the front of the vehicle and repeated his commands so he could verify the signals in front were as reliable as the ones at the rear. The next item up for inspection were the headlights. “Pull the switch all the way out, Spud bud,” Dad said! “He hasn’t called me that since I was a kid,” Zane thought as he fumbled around for the activator switch. “Now try the brights,” Dad said with enthusiastic glee! Zane knew the operation consisted of actuating a pressure mechanism that was mounted to the floor, but he couldn’t feel it right away. In order to locate the switch he had to lean his head down under the dash. He found the switch and rested the sole of his left boot upon it. For the first time he pressed on the High-Beam actuator which transformed soothing yellow orbs into brilliant white light! That concluded the inspection in Charlie’s mind, and the truck was deemed road worthy. “The only thing left is to adjust your mirrors Son!” Once Dad was satisfied, he ventured back to the driver’s side door. “Okay Son listen to me.” It was only on rare occasions that Charlie spoke clearly and directly. “We’re going to stop in at Dodge City and gas up now. You follow me close! If anything acts up I need you to flash your headlights on and off. I’ll see it in my mirrors, and we’ll pull over right away!”  Zane, who spoke mostly with grunts and body language, nodded in obedient agreement. He looked his Dad squarely in the eyes and mouthed the words, “Good Enough…Let’s go!” Like an obedient soldier, he waited while Dad got situated into his rig. The trailer’s brake lights flickered on, and then suddenly went dark. This suggested that Charlie’s rig was about to get underway. Zane drew a deep breath. He applied moderate brake pressure, and lovingly shifted the automatic transmission into D for Drive. He then removed his foot from the brake pedal and accelerated very carefully. Charlie’s rig made it through the pasture and negotiated the hard right turn onto a dirt road. He followed along like a dutiful son. The brown Chevy didn’t come equipped with power steering, and Zane noticed right away! To his horror, the fourteen-year-old boy discovered he couldn’t crank the wheel! He was attempting to follow along behind his dad, but because he lacked adequate strength he couldn’t make it happen! Zane found himself using two hands to make the corner! Zane practically had to use his body weight in order to muster enough leverage to budge the steering wheel. He struggled and toiled and finally negotiated the turn. He was relieved to find the steering was easier once the truck was moving down a straight road. Having negotiated that obstacle, Zane’s attention was once again focused upon reliability. He was still nervous about the transmission. Charlie’s rig was slowly accelerating, and Zane followed close behind. He was delighted when the Turbo-Hydromatic shifted out of first gear, and up through second, and finally into third. “Transmission seems fine,” Zane thought as he sighed with nervous relief! As the caravan slowly gained speed, he apprehensively felt around for stray vibrations and wobbles. None were detected. The two separate rigs traveled the forty miles to Dodge City where they filled their coffee mugs and took on fuel. Zane checked the fluids, and the levels were fine. The tire pressure on the other hand was an issue that needed further attention. Zane could tell the front tires were low just by looking at them. Utilizing the station’s air compressor, he pumped each tire up to 40 psi, including the spare.  Zane was delighted to learn how much of an improvement proper tire pressure could provide! Once he got back on the road He concluded that having under-inflated tires made it harder to steer and he was correct. Low air pressure, coupled with the loose soil of the freshly tilled dirt would have made it difficult for any man to navigate his way out of that pasture!

They drove on through the night for eleven hours before the tiny caravan made it safely home. It was just breaking dawn and Zane was physically exhausted. By now the crew had been awake for over 24 hours, and it was time for sleep. After a few hours of rest, Zane woke up in a state of panic! He dreamed he had fallen asleep at the wheel! The nightmare climaxed as he drifted into rapidly approaching headlights! Having been fully awakened by the sudden jolt, he decided to crawl out of bed. He rubbed his swollen eyes and pulled back the curtain while processing what had just happened? He wanted to ensure that he wasn’t still dreaming so peeked out of his bedroom window. His optimistic gaze was greeted with a beautiful brown Chevrolet pick-up as it sat majestically in the dusty driveway! The first thing he noticed was the chrome from the bumper as it reflected the glistening New Mexico sunshine! It was really there! It wasn’t a dream. Zane loved his new pick-up more than life itself! He planned on performing an oil-change right away to help celebrate his good fortune!

Those were good times Zane thought, as the pleasant memories rapidly dissolved into the recesses of his inner subconscious. He remembered his father’s cancer and it was a sobering thought. As he came to his senses, he realized he had missed his exit ramp! He was so engrossed in the vision that his sub-conscious mind missed the usual turn-off. His autopilot had failed him. He pulled himself awake, and back into the present moment. He directed his attention towards the immediate task at hand which was to borrow Dad’s trailer. By this time he was approaching Woody’s Truck stop at the Sedillo exit, meaning that he would have to back track. The minor slip up added three miles to the voyage. Zane put on a brave face as he arrived at the old homestead. It was about nine o’clock in the morning. He was bracing himself because Charlie’s appearance became exponentially worse upon each successive visit. “I have to remember to smile,” Zane reminded himself. “The last thing I need is for him to see me cry.”

…to be continued

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