Time Travel: In Search of the Ultimate Sunrise
Probably the most beautiful sunrise I ever experienced was my first morning in Flagstaff, Arizona, back in February, 1987… first morning as a resident, that is. Lupita and I had visited before, naturally (I usually do that before making a move, though not always), but this was the Big Move.
Of course if you’re a Flagstaffian, then you already know I was a neophyte or I wouldn’t have been doing it in February, not in Flagstaff. February in Flagstaff is risky, by definition. We made the trip from Berkeley almost without incident, too—almost, I reiterate—the California central valley, the Tehachapis, Barstool, the Desert of Death, the Big Ditch, Bullhead City, etc. Then came the Big Climb, almost sea level to 7000 feet in the course of less than 200 miles, about three hours, if you’re lucky. We weren’t…
After ten straight hours of travel, fully loaded like the Beverly Hillbillies in sesarch of finery after striking it rich with crude, and making any stopover problematic, we decided to push on through the night, Flagstaff by morning hopefully, not so easy on the best of vehicles in the best of times, but this was a 20-year-old pickup strained to the limits of its endurance. It was a trooper, no doubt, having been to Guatemala twice and Mexico again only the year before, but still, this was Flagstaff in February…
We almost made it, but that old pickup truck just died when it saw the city limit sign, five miles out of town. Just died. Wouldn’t start. Turn the key. Nothing. The rest is silence. Lupita pulled up behind me in her little cream-puff of a car.
“What’s the problem?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.” When stressed out, I can be a real smart-ass.
Then I looked up and saw that sunrise, purples and oranges in random profusion, clouds splotched around as vehicles for the color—oil not water—and that only, apparently. Vehicles, right. We’re all just vehicles for something larger, aren’t we, just reality TV actors when viewed from a higher dimension, or another dimension, or an added dimension, four instead of a mere three, five instead of a mere four.
Somehow it all made sense, even if I couldn’t explain why my truck had just died any more than I could explain why I was standing there in sub-freezing temperature contemplating it. Some things just ARE, better not to question why. I was just grateful it had gotten me that far. I-40 is a lonely stretch of pavement from Wilmington to Barstow, no place to get your kicks. You and I we’ve been through that. Route 66 went from Chicago to LA, but it doesn’t exist anymore, not really. It’s even lonelier connecting from the I-5 in California; that’s why we connected from Hwy. 99 instead.
But we survived, and a week later three feet of snow shut down the I-17 right in front of our house for three days (gulp)… paradigm sh**t. The truck survived to live another day, too, make a few more trips and tell a few more stories, before becoming terminal, finally succumbing to taxes and rust. A successor would rise in its stead, performing many rituals and passages before finally making the return trip to Berkeley, where it too would die on the streets in an act of cosmic symmetry and suspected sepuku.
Lupita and I would complete our decade as a couple, the paradigm of modern serial monogamy, and she would stay on in the new town that I dragged her to, kicking and screaming, she something of a founding mother now in that makeshift town of thin soils and shallow roots, gods and goddesses, workers and drones, Indians and wannabes, transients and trustafarians. I’ve been to 150 countries by now; at the time it was only about thirty.
But still I can’t forget that sunrise. The sad thing is that if I saw it posted on Facebook today, I’d assume it was ‘edited’ on Instagram, and I’d reject it as so much digital chicanery, a deceit to the senses. But it wasn’t. It was the play of light on clouds at extremely oblique angles coming from 93,000,000 miles away and striking a planet with atmosphere, as if there for that purpose, and maybe that purpose only.
The funny thing is that there was really nothing wrong with the truck that morning. It started right away when we came back; oh it may have had an electrical problem or two—battery, alternator, solenoid, starter or something—like me with my mysterious gouts, stones, birth defects, and nine-letter DNA deletions on the God gene; plus various unspoken cancers of the mind, body, and soul. That’s why I learned to park on hills; that way you don’t need a starter, or much of a battery even. That’s why I learned to travel, far and wide; that way you don’t need so many doctors, psychologists, insurance agents, or real estate salesmen.
Think I’m joking? I once drove the van that replaced that truck from downtown San Francisco to Flagstaff—800 miles—without a clutch, and fully loaded. No, it’s not an automatic. Yes, I left early to avoid bridge traffic. Hi. Welcome to my world. But I still refuse to believe that there was anything wrong with the truck that morning. I prefer to believe that it was simply having a religious experience, a ‘vision’ if you prefer, an epiphany if you will. Or maybe there was simply no place else to transfer my emotions, since I had no pet at the time.
Regardless, I learned to love the color orange that day. I already loved purple. So now I could enjoy the penultimate frequencies representing two opposite ends of the spectrum mixing and mingling on the palate and the palette, to swish, swallow and digest, or simply spit out and go on to something else. In God-talk I believe the clouds were saying nothing more nothing less than, “Welcome to Flagstaff.” Now it all makes sense.