Sunday, May 31, 2009

Why Won't Daddy Stop?

Here are a few ramblings about Eddie G. and his stop at the Gates of Hell.

In about 1957 or ‘58, my family traveled Route 66 from Kansas City, somehow skirting Los Angeles, and ending up in San Francisco. I have a solitary memory from that trip, after all, I must have been four or five years old. That memory is this: late at night, long after dark,  my father woke me from a sound sleep to see the turn-off sign to the Grand Canyon. I can distinctly remember his words – “Look. It’s the Grand Canyon.”

Which it wasn’t.

It was a wooden sign. He must have slowed, but he would have never stopped. In subsequent years, we would shoot by giant teepees, meteor craters, and  concrete dinosaurs at sixty or seventy miles an hour. Never slowing, never stopping, unless we needed gas.

When I conceived of “Eddie G. at the Gates of Hell,” the story idea was rooted in my childhood frustrations. Just once, I’d like to stop at one of those roadside attractions. Then it hit me: there had to  be a reason why my father never stopped.

My best guess: he must have been on the run. On the lam, like in those black and white movies. I know (now) that he was a womanizer, he didn’t love my mother, and was unconnected to his children. Still, he was a charming guy that everyone liked.

Of course, none of this is really covered in the story. Other than the fact that Eddie G. is somehow a version of my Dad.

A child’s angry version twisted by time.

And then I touched my own fear. Even as a child I sensed something was not right with our family. There was always an edge, a razor-wire waiting to be yanked, to slice, to cut, to hurt. Now that I’m older, and supposedly more reflective, I wish I knew why my father never stopped.

To his dying day, my father insisted that we had stopped at the Grand Canyon.

Which we hadn’t. I should know. I didn’t see the Grand Canyon for another twenty-nine years. I drove to the same spot, slowed, and made the turn. I thought a lot about my father that day. He must have had a really, really good reason for speeding by.

“Eddie G. at the Gates of Hell” is my best guess why he always kept his foot on the gas pedal.

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