Rambling Snapshots: Monument Valley and Intercalary on Driving Tips
Next Month: Route 66
Monument Valley, Utah
Most are thicker than a New York City block and all rise up taller than a skyscraper. Actually, that is incorrect. They didn’t rise up. The desert floor descended, the result of countless ages of wind and water erosion. Their tops once were the floor.
Regardless, when you’re beneath them you still must look up at them and their streaks of red and white stratification, sandstone formed of mud from the ocean floor millions of years ago, their color changing in the shifting sunlight. West Mitten Butte and East Mitten Butte, so named because each of them has a matching ‘thumb’ of jutting rock. Merrick Butte. Elephant Butte. Mitchell Mesa. Rain God Mesa. Spearhead Mesa. Camel Butte. Each filled with alcoves and ledges. Some sit like gigantic boxes on the desert floor. Others rise up like boney hands. You half expect to see Wile E. Coyote dart out vainly chasing Road Runner. Poor Coyote. He always wanted but never got. He was always hungry, but he always failed. Road Runner just couldn’t be trapped or caught, like most things we think we must have. Beep, beep.
Hundreds of other solitary buttes, free standing rock formations, vast canyons, and mesas greeted us as we drove northeast from Tuba City, Arizona, toward Mexican Hat, Utah. At Mexican Hat you meet that different type of rock formation, almost comical, which gives the town its namesake. High above the town a rock formation resembles that sleeping peasant, his legs tucked up under his chin, his giant sombrero shading him.
The interpretive sign at the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Visitor’s Center -- welcoming you to the most condensed cluster of these buttes and mesas -- tells you that the Navajo name for the valley is “White Streaks Amidst the Rocks.” The sign continues: “Navaho elders and ceremonialists tell us that many sacred places within this valley including springs, places where plants, medicines, and places where prayers are offered. These places have names and stories and they are occupied and visited by the deities…”
Well, of course deities visit and still occupy them. Surely enough for the Navajo’s and surely enough for my brothers and I raised on a steady diet of Hollywood Westerns. Our boyhood kind of deities. If you’ve seen any John Wayne western, you already are familiar with the territory I’m describing.
Here was filmed dozens of those classic western moves: “The Lone Ranger;’ ‘My Darling Clementine;’ “Stagecoach;” as well as “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.” This last is my favorite John Wayne movie. It was his too. The wind swirled with a dust devil and I do believe I saw ghosts.
Despite the warnings that the dirt road winding along the floor of the valley was dangerous to recreational vehicles and low clearance vehicles, we descended in our brave little sports car down among the buttes. Only once did I scrape the bottom of my car. Frank screwed up his face as metal ground into rock. No leak resulted, fortunately. Huffing from a panic attack, I let him drive – he’s a better driver than I am. I gave up pride a long time ago. I know when I am in over my head. Other tourists whisking by in their jeeps and SUV’s took pictures of us navigating the stones and silt. But it was worth the risk to drive, stop, and stand where Captain Nathan Brittles and Sergeant Tyree galloped. Gallant men that they were. Another line in the interpretive sign was dead on when it said, “These rocks are alive, they have ears, mouths, and breathe, just as humans do.”
Miles into the valley you find the John Ford point, which resembles a New England pulpit sticking out into the valley. Over there you can imagine the US Calvary digging in. Was that a stagecoach racing by, raising up a cloud of dust, chased by hundred of whooping warriors? You might remember the most famous line of the movie, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” spoken by John Wayne’s character several times: “Never apologize, it’s a sign of weakness.”
Though, if you know the movie, it is rather odd for him to say that because several times in the movie he does express regret for some of the decisions he’s made or things he did.
Which is perfectly okay because what he really means is don’t whine or complain. It takes a big man to know when to grovel. Great men and women acknowledge fault rather roll out the litany of excuses. The great know a sincere apology is a sign of strength, not weakness. For they try to fix what they can. They’re the A students. The rest of us? We’re C and D students. Well, here’s another nice mess I’ve gotten myself into.
I find it much saner these days to size other people up and work with them as I meet them, rather than on the basis of the baggage attributed to them by others. If so, maybe they’ll view me in a similar light.
Our capacity to self-justify knows no bounds. Either individually or as nations. Ask North Korea. Ask Congress. Ask Louisiana. Sure, the gulf oil spill is horrible. Sure, it should never have happened. Sure, Louisiana is irate. But they weren’t complaining years ago about their revenues from all those off-shore drilling rigs.
We are become puffed up Pip aboard the Pequod. Hello there, Moby. Why are you swimming toward me so fast?
Or ask yourself. My pride. My stubborn will. My rationales. My excuses. My fears. My defensiveness. My distrust. My whining. My proclivity for self-pity. My sense of good. My self. Well, ex-cuse me!
Yet, we’re all going to get a spanking one way or another. We may buy the finest products Acme makes, but Road Runner will still win and we hapless coyotes will get blown up or plummet onto the Canyon floor. Beep, beep.
We mostly know Gulliver’s Travels by the story of Gulliver among all those miniature Lilliputians. But after Gulliver escapes them, he is abandoned on an island where he is tiny and the people of Brobdingnag gigantic. Forced to see them up close, Gulliver can’t stand the sight of them; their skin, beneath layers of cosmetics, is, up close, pocked-marked, filthy, blemished, offensive, stinky.
When you is stark naked, exposed, mirrors are uncomfortable work. Life, of course, has a nasty habit of requiring candor. Only then can our stubborn, clamped down, iron-gated souls be pried open to receive the chance for grace.
Tough to reflect light when the mirror is smudged. Tough to hear clearly when you’re busy listening to yourself. Or busy listening to others. Or busy gossiping about others. I’m so special. What a good boy am I. The world revolves around me. Not my fault. Not at all. Blame the world. Blame her. Blame him. Blame them. Blame bad luck.
Oh dear, father Daedalus, my wax wings are melting.
One of the advantages of those clever with words is how the clever can offer an apology without an ounce of sincerity in it. Not that those clever ones have many reasons to be sorry about something they’ve said or done. It’s others who cause offense. But, God love us, sometimes some persons take offense and think they are owed an apology.
So, how can you say you’re sorry without really meaning it? Let me offer a few suggestions, for I’ve use them all at one time or another.
The Deflection Apology:
Gee, I’m sorry you took offense…
I’m sorry you feel that way…
The Coy Apology:
Hey, don’t be so sensitive, I’m joking…
The Scoffing Apology:
Don’t be so stupid…
The ‘It’s Your Fault” Apology:
I’m sorry I hurt you, but, you know, you shouldn’t have said what you said…
The “I’m Bringing You Down with Me” Apology:
I apologize for what I did, but you also need to apologize to me…
The “I Have an Excuse” Apology:
I’m sorry, but (fill in the blank: I drank too much, I was angry, I was tired…)
The ‘Pontius Pilate I Wash My Hands’ Apology
I’m sorry for all the suffering they are experiencing (rather than admitting I am sorry for inflicting the suffering)…
The Bureaucratic Apology:
Darn. Mistakes have been made…
The Half-Hearted Apology:
I’m sorry (but – whisper, whisper -- don’t expect me to change or do anything to make it better or make any effort whatsoever to correct the wrong)…
In the long run, these fake apologies don’t help one iota.
Don’t try to shift the blame, dodging owning up to the wrong you’ve done by cleverly saying how you are sorry they took offense, as if it is their fault. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Don’t’ make excuses either. Don’t expect that the person you wronged is somehow obligated to forgive you. And any time in your apology you use the word ‘but’ you’ve just canceled your apology.
The reality is, even for Nathan Brittles, even for John Wayne, even for America, even for you and me, we each have enough for which we need to apologize.
My biggest mistake as a father and as a husband? It was thinking that my hunger could only be satisfied by what someone could give me. If I’m unhappy, you’re to blame. Right?
My second biggest mistake? Taking her and them for granted. There was a stretch there when I was very important and doing very important things. I was busy almost every night trouble-shooting churches in conflict. I was essential. Elaine on the other hand kept hoping, wondering, asking, if we could do a few things as a family. “Dammit, Elaine, I’ve had a hard day being charming.” Years later she sighed, “All I ever wanted was one game of miniature golf with the children.”
I was an idiot. The truth, they say, will set you free; but first, they add, it'll hurt like hell.
It takes a big man to apologize, dad use to say. I am still trying to learn this. It takes a real man to imitate Nathan Brittles and man up, fix it if you can, take responsibility.
Anything else erodes your character until everyone else towers above you.
43 hours 50 minutes. 2907.52 miles. That is what Mapquest calculates is required to drive the speed limit from New York City to San Francisco, from the George Washington Bridge to the Golden Gate, from Atlantic to Pacific. That’s a whole lot of miles to think about driving. That’s how long takes to drive across our continent, mostly on Interstate 80. A straight bee-line. That doesn't take into consideration the kind of traveling required when you don't drive Interstate 80. My kind of driving. Whether Los Angeles traffic jams or driving up along the Mississippi in Louisiana. Whether rocky paths in Monument Valley or along the Pacific Coast Highway north to Big Sur. Across a variety of less famous bridges. Interstates and back roads. Both two lane roads 8,000 miles high or the road at Death Valley 41 feet below sea level. Both driving at 80 MPH or 15 MPH. Both downhill switchbacks or a ribbon of a road straight as an arrow for leagues.
2907.52 miles. My trip will turn out to be 9,422 miles. That’s a lot of rambling on. That’s lots of time to think. Solitude time to think is a good thing. Too often we are surrounded by too much talk, too much noise. So far, most of the time I didn’t even turn on the radio or play the iPod. Time to think.
2907.52. miles. Thinking about where I’ve been and where I’m going. What’s ahead. What’s behind. Discovering the way. Discovering new things about me.
Roadways, highways, bi-ways, and the way of life. It applies whether it is how you drive your car or drive your life.
So we offer a few driving tips. Along with their metaphorical equivalents.
Sure it’s corny. Maybe you can come up with some of your corny own.
First things first: when behind the wheel, focus on the road.
And that includes everything around you. Ahead, sideways, and behind. That’s what’s those mirrors are for. You look ahead and you look behind. Remember: you drive safe and smart not only for your sake but for the sake of everyone else traveling. There’s a good reason there are regulations discouraging use of cell phone, putting on eye makeup, or texting while driving. We don’t need any more crosses on the shoulders of roads marking a bad accident from someone not paying attention. Even if in cruise control, better keep your eye on the road. Stay the way. Mostly look ahead but remember to look back and see what’s behind you. Look around to be sure to notice those around you. Especially, avoid those worldly distractions that can cause you to drive quickly off the road, crashing.
Replace bald tires.
It is scary spinning 360. I’ve done it before. It is frightening when the roadway is icy or wet. No tread equals no traction. Suppose you’re going faster than you think, which is usually the case. You take the curve and, whoops…whirl, smash, crash. You’ve hurt others and yourself. Are your moral tires bald or do you have good tread, deep grooves? Moral traction protects you and those you love from spinning out of control. Gripping the roadway. All the more necessary when the weather isn’t fair to keep you adhering to the right way.
Why do some get so red faced? Are others getting in the way of what they want? Why are they so defensive, so quick to take offense? Are others impeding them from their expectations? Attitude is everything. When folks start giving the Jersey gesture or turning puffed-up red-faced, avoid retaliating. They who retaliate are they who get hurt. Get yourself away from hostile people. You don’t need them. Anger and resentment will turn a nice drive nasty and spoil your trip.
How do your replenish yourself? How do your nourish yourself? Fuel up with meditation time, thinking time, reading time, surrounding yourself with beautiful art time, conversing with others about important matters, regular (I would pastorally add) worship. If you forget to fuel up you will run on empty and get stuck on the shoulder hoping for help. Guaranteed. And by the way, fill up on the right fuel. High octane.
The orange construction sign gives advance warning: left lane closed – ½ mile ahead.
There is a simple solution to keep traffic flowing: alternate! Take turns. Makes it real simple for everyone to be able to keep going forward. Imagine you’re migrating along like a flock of geese. The familiar V pattern in the sky is an exercise in economy of energy. Goose up in front tires out from being in front and encountering all the drag; goose drops back and the one drafting behind takes his place. Geese may honk annoyingly but they do more than just honk, they first help each other out. Pushing yourself ahead of others, forcing yourself ahead, as if you’re the most important driver, that’s when the traffic gets all jammed up.
There is a reason Departments of Traffic erect all those signs along the road: bridge ices up -- slow down on exit ramp -- trucks entering -- deer crossing -- stoplights ahead.
If you pay attention to the signs, if pay attention to what you are told, you can keep traveling -- safely and accurately -- where you want to go. What is your spouse saying to you? What do you friends think of your plans? At work, what advice would your boss or co-workers have for you? Do you need to improve in certain areas? Do you play a sport? If so, what are your teammates telling you about what they need from you? Pay attention additionally to those hidden voices, those nudges of the spirit urging you to make that visit, send that card, take her out to dinner, schedule a game of miniature golf.
Clean your windshields.
Clean them at every gas station stop – grab that squeegee – for windshields smeared and smudged from all the bug splatter can be a bother, especially when you’re driving into the sun. Those kamikaze bugs turn even sunlight into a hindrance. It’s worse at night because bugs come out in a vengeance in the night, drawn to the headlamps.
Squeegee away those smudged souls. Clean up the dirty mind. Wipe up the mistakes of the past. Clean up how you look at others. See them as you would want them to see you. Only then you can see clearly the way forward.
‘If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.’
Avoid following too closely the vehicle in front of you. Give distance. Tailgating prevents the space you need to escape. Those ahead jam on their brakes, you slam yours – too close and it’s a pile-up. When you follow someone else too closely, even if a splendid person, you’re letting them dictate how you drive. You got to make the journey your own. You got to make how your drive the highway your own.
Count on them. Detours will happen. Nothing is perfect. Never met a road that didn’t have a few detours along the way. So, might as well profit from them. Sometimes it is the detours in life that can be the more fascinating. Whoever thought life would take you on a straight run?
Obey speed limits.
If you go the speed limit, why worry? You see the police cruiser on the side of the road. Others start hitting their brakes, ending up speeding past, nervously checking the rear view mirror to see if they’ve been caught. Oh no, he’s pulling out! Oh no, a ticket, points, and fine! Fines doubled in construction zones. There are few feelings better than the confidence that comes from knowing you’re okay. I’m just fine, whether driving through the small town in Alabama or the Arizona interstate. Why? You’re driving the speed limit. I’m just fine. Besides, why hurry? Let the road come to you. You smile as you pass by the highway patrol or the local police cruiser. When you follow the rules you won’t have to worry about getting caught.
No matter where you may be driving or how fast you may be going, someone always will drive faster and will pass you.
So what’s it to you? Just take care of your driving. You can’t control or regulate how others are traveling.
It happens every now and then when you drive a stick shift, especially if you’re either new at it or plain tired from long miles. You miss the gear. You press down on the clutch but miss the shift. The car revs down, caught in neutral.
Even if you have to go slow -- first gear, second gear, third gear -- at least you’re making progress. For one thing is certain: slipping your transmission into neutral, shifting out of gear from the power of love, faith, hope, friendship gets you nowhere. Get in gear, friends.
Never miss a chance to piss. Take advantage of Roadside Rests whenever you can. You can’t count on the next one still open, especially in Arizona. Given reductions in state budgets, Roadside Rests are top of the list for red lining. Listen to your body. Your body’s signals are pretty accurate. If weary, tense, or uncomfortable, it’s telling you to take a break. Give yourself a rest. Trust your gut.
You see them ahead. Drivers who remain the left lane, even when the right lane is empty.
Very annoying. They don’t budge. They drive along oblivious to everyone else. Or are they? Or are they really trying to control the flow of traffic, giving them reason to scoff in disgust at frustrated folks behind them who are forced to pass them on the right. Here’s one for any institution filled with folks unwilling to accept change. Hey: its right lane for traffic flow. Left lane for passing. Who are you to impede others from progressing on their way? Get out of their way!
Auto-pilot may be fine for highways but hardly appropriate for side roads, roads with traffic lights, roads where speed limits change quickly. You need to adjust to the road because the road sure isn’t going to adjust to you.
They’re called signals for a reason. These turn signal levers stick out of the steering column for a reason. If you’re going to exit or make a left or right turn, flick the switch please. It is more than mere courtesy. If you need to turn in a new direction, if you need a change, give the rest of us a heads up so we can respond. Why do so many drivers (or husbands or wives) assume those in front of them or trailing them can read their minds?
Don’t rush the stop sign
When you do, you’re inviting getting rear-ended. In inclement weather – sleet, snow, ice, rain – if you fail to tap your brakes gently (imagine that proverbial egg is behind the break pedal) and ease to a stop, you’ll find yourself sliding past the stop sign out into the middle of the intersection. Then you’ll be staring at the car bearing down directly toward you. Abrupt people tend to elicit abrupt reactions.
You’re stuck. Face it. You can try to merge into the lane that seems to be moving along better. Go ahead, but don’t expect that lane suddenly to loosen up and speed up. Something ahead is causing the problem. But you’re miles from discovering the source of this bumper-to-bumper traffic. Could be an accident, could be construction. Regardless, you can’t do anything about it. Accept it. We all get jammed up one way or another. What you can do is make up games about the other drivers. What you can do is sing songs. What you can do is say your prayers. What you can do is tune into the local news. What you can do is write an imaginary letter to a spouse, a child, a friend. What you cannot do is wave your magic wand and magically make it all better. Accept the things you cannot change. Accept that you can only change you.
They usually aren’t.
Dashboard Warning Lights
Those lights have been installed and placed in front of you for a reason. Check Engine. Oil Pressure. Seatbelt. Door Open. Battery Charge. Slip Indicator. High Beams On. Your dashboard is telling you something you need to know about your car’s operation and performance. What you do with the information is entirely up to you. If you want to ignore a problem with the oil pressure, that’s your choice. You’re stupid if you do ignore it, but you can if you wish. In other words, these dashboard warning lights are identical to your feelings, your emotions. Anger. Jealousy. Depression. Embarrassment. Guilt. Lust. Shame. Frustration. Your feelings simply are signals. They have no power in themselves only in what we do with them once we pay attention to them. What you do with them, how you respond to them, is entirely your choice.
You veer onto the entrance ramp and you’re merging onto the busy interstate.
Why do some drivers think it is their right to go as fast as they can and everyone else already on the road should make room for them? Please avoid aggressive merging. Some things you are unable to force, like trying to fill up an ice tray with full faucet pressure. Or mowing a lawn where you’ve let the grass grow for three untended weeks. If you push the whole mower through the tall grass, it’ll clog. Mow half or third a swatch and it’ll work better. Do you see that sign ahead? It says ‘Yield.’ They don’t have to adjust to you. You have to adjust to them, to the flow of traffic on your left. Friend: you cannot force yourself onto life's highway on your terms; The road isn’t a right, it is a gift. Friend: it is up to you to yield.
Whether 2907.52 miles or 29 years. 5815.04 miles or 58 years. 9,422 miles or 94 years. It’s all a road trip. For life is neither a place to stay nor a destination. It is the great way to go.
Bon voyage, safe journey, traveling mercies.